*Although Hollywood has a horrible track record when it comes to remakes of foreign films, especially French farces, I nonetheless approached Dinner for Schmucks optimistically and with an open mind.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be just the latest in a long line of tone-deaf adaptations which fail to recapture any of the magic of the original, in this case substituting slapstick and a mean-spiritedness where there had once been a certain savoir faire combined with a sublime sense of humor.
Dinner for Schmucks is based on The Dinner Game (1998), a dark comedy about a bunch of rich snobs who get their kicks by seeing who can invite the biggest loser to a weekly dinner party. Directed by Jay Roach (Meet the Parents), the plotline of this fairly-faithful knockoff may superficially sound a lot like the first but, trust me, it has somehow now lost most of the charm.
The unlikely-buddy vehicle co-stars Paul Rudd as the exploiter in need of a blithering idiot and Steve Carell as the unsuspecting stranger who conveniently fits the bill. At the point of departure, we meet Tim Conrad (Rudd), an aspiring executive at Fender Financial, an investment firm specializing in leveraged buyouts. His ruthless boss (Bruce Greenwood) sees a future in the young up-and-comer, but conditions a promotion to partner on his first winning the company’s secret dinner for idiots competition.
Tim is so conflicted about participating that he confides in his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) about it. But because she’s a sweet-hearted bohemian who hangs out in the art world, she makes him promise not to have anything to do with such a cruel game being played by stuffy corporate types, especially if he expects her to accept the recent marriage proposal she’s been mulling over.
He agrees, but goes back on his word after literally running into Barry (Carell), a terminally-clumsy IRS employee. Barry’s hobby is taxidermy, and he makes dioramas recreating famous tableaus in his spare time, such as The Last Supper, only substituting stuffed mice for Christ and each of the Apostles. Tim sees the buffoon as a shoo-in to win the idiots contest and can’t resist the urge to invite him over to the apartment to get better acquainted.
Not surprisingly, the tables are soon turned, albeit inadvertently, by hapless Barry who proceeds to make a holy mess of Tim’s life, whether by ruining his relationship with Julie, helping to aggravate his bad back, or elsewhat. While Rudd again proves himself the consummate straight man, ala I Love You, Man and other outings, Carell’s sophomoric antics are an indication that any sophistication simply got lost in the translation of the script into English.
A mediocre sitcom serving up a half-baked, TV dinner. Check please!
Fair (1 star) Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, crude humor and partial nudity. Running time: 114 Minutes Studio: Paramount Pictures
Watch the trailer for “Dinner for Schmucks”: