The Review: The two most prominent comedy schools of the twenty-first century have been the Adam McKay-Will Ferrell type movies with mainly madness and shouting, and the Judd Apatow, more observational style, although the two have shared common acting talent. Paul Rudd and Steve Carell have appeared together in one of each (Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin), and now align themselves with director Jay Roach, who himself has spawned two key comedy franchises in the Austin Powers and Fockers sagas. Quite a wide variety of styles, but Dinner For Schmucks attempts to mine yet further comedic deposits, including the discomfort-style comedy of Carell’s own The Office remake, but the predominant tone here is altogether more screwball.
This is, of course, a remake of the Nineties French movie Le diner de cons, with two major structural differences – that movie didn’t actually have the dinner at its conclusion, whereas here the conclusion is the dinner itself (don’t worry, that’s not a significant spoiler), but also that there was nothing but entertainment as a motive for the original’s dinner, whereas Schmucks raises the stakes for Paul Rudd’s Tim so that he must be successful at the dinner and also in his other endeavours. Crucial to this is finding the right schmuck, and Tim quite literally runs into Steve Carell’s Barry, a kind hearted simpleton who produces dioramas from roadkill mice. So we have some stakes, and they are raised as soon as Barry comes into Tim’s life with the complications that Barry immediately and inadvertently causes for Tim’s love life.
Your tolerance for what follows will depend entirely on the good will you have for Messrs. Carell and Rudd. For the first hour of the movie has the occasional chuckle, is sporadically funny, but is also packed full of set pieces that lead you to question what kind of comedy you’re actually watching. Dinner For Schmucks is described in the opening titles as “inspired by”, but in the process the writers appear to have taken too many of the direct elements from their original and nothing really gels together. Or indeed, is actually anything other than toe-curlingly embarrassing at some points, most notably a subplot featuring Lucy Punch as a clingy former one-night stand. There’s also jeopardy on the love interest angle – Jermaine Clement plays the weirdo artist with a commendable straight face, but there’s very little to offer of interest in that story early on.
Then something happens as we get closer to the dinner itself – Barry’s nemesis at work, Therman (Zack Galifianakis) comes into the story, and suddenly Barry’s tale takes on a huge amount of pathos and you find yourself rooting for him, despite yourself and despite the fact that at times he’s taken decisions which seem purely driven to be annoying, rather than true to the character. But the final dinner arrives, all of the characters, including David Walliams’ bizarre Swiss moneyman and the other schmucks, come together in what turns out to be a very funny and well constructed conclusion, as the respective idiocies all have a bearing on the final outcome in the manner of a classic farce. If you can last until the final third, the dinner is worth the wait and elevates the whole enterprise by several degrees, but if you’re not big Carell / Rudd fans, you may struggle to last that long.
Why see it at the cinema: To take in the full intricate and poignant details of Barry’s mouse dioramas in their wonderful detail. There’s a mouse Jesus! What more could you want?
The Score: 6/10