Monday, October 04, 2010

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS - Contrived Remake

Cast: Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, Stephanie Szostak, Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis, Lucy Punch, David Walliams and Ron Livingston
Director: Jay Roach
Script: Ken Daurio, David Guion, Michael Handelman, Cinco Paul, Francis Veber and Jon Vitti
Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell in DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS

PREAMBLE: I understand many people may find this Steve Carrell vehicle funny but comedies about mentally-retarded people can be rather distasteful to me. Idiots are to be pitied, not laughed at. You may say "it's only a movie, with Steve Carrell playing the idiot" - and there's the rub. His portrayal of a nitwit is fine but the comedy, written by a bunch of scripters, is so contrived and ridiculous, that it induces more cringes than laughter.

Adapted from French film-maker Francis Veber's 1998 comedy, The Dinner Game, Dinner For Schmucks plays more like Dinner By Schmucks, given that Veber's crisp feature (which was about 75 minutes long) is stretched into almost two hours of inane and repetitive gags. And then there is the paradox of the movie - getting us to laugh at idiots when its central message is against that.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Paul Rudd stars as Tim, an investment firm yuppie desperate to be promoted. After voicing out an interesting proposal to his boss (Bruce Greenwood) to clinch a huge account, Tim gets invited to a special dinner where he must bring along an 'idiot' for their entertainment. The one with the funniest 'schmuck' wins.

This invitation is frowned upon by Tim's fiancee Julie (Stephanie Szostak) who wants him to turn down the invitation but after literally bumping into IRS agent Barry (Carrell), Tim realises that he has found his idiot and invites Barry to the dinner.

Lucy Punch, Rudd and Stephanie Szostak

HITS & MISSES: To be fair, the first and second acts of the movie are promising and even absorbing. Barry, a taxidermist who collects dead mice, gets our sympathy even though his good intentions wreck everything and everyone in his path. Carrell plays the annoying idiot to the hilt, turning Rudd's Tim into a supporting role. This includes a farcical subplot involving Tim's stalker girlfriend Darla (Lucy Punch) who shows up at a crucial meeting at Barry's behest and turns Tim's love life upside-down. Another involves Julie's client Kieran (Jemaine Clement), an egoistic artist who is also eyeing Julie.

And then everything seems to fall apart at the third act - the dinner party. Veber's original film never actually got to the dinner but here Jay Roach figures he can mine more laughs from social misfits and the plan backfires, giving the audience a sour after-taste. Anyway, someone should tell director Jay Roach that seeing a beautiful apartment or an expensive sports car purposely wrecked is just painful, not funny.

THE LOWDOWN: No feast of mirth on the menu here, just moral indigestion.


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