French remake

Review: Dinner For Schmucks

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The Pitch: Of Mice And Anchormen.

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

Review: Wild Target

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The Pitch: Three Characters In Search Of A Plot. Possibly one involving nonthreatening British gangsters.

The Review: Ah, remakes of French movies. Who can forget Three Men and a Baby, The Birdcage, Three Fugitives, er… Just Visiting… Every culture has its own sense of humour and style, and these don’t always travel well. So it’s a good idea for such remakes to put something of their own national style onto the bones of the structure, and this reworking of the French black comedy Ciblé emouvante, all of seventeen years old now, tends slightly more towards farce, although some slightly black comedic elements remain, and the two can in theory sit well together.

And there’s no faulting the ambition of the casting director. In addition to the three headliners, support from the likes of Rupert Everett and Martin Freeman lends the whole enterprise an air of credibility – at least until you remember that Al Pacino and Christopher Walken were in Gigli, so there are no guarantees in this life. But the weight of the movie rests firmly with Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt. The former is a model of restraint, layering character details carefully onto his mannered and largely restrained performance; the latter is the sparkle that more often than not keeps things interesting, flirting and wiggling her way through, a nymphomaniac, kleptomaniac charmer who’s out of her depth, but just keeps swimming anyway. Disappointingly, Rupert Grint seems destined to be making a career of adding 10% to the gross of movies that Ron Weasley die-hards wouldn’t otherwise have seen, and gets to do little of interest.

Where the movie is less successful is in moving the plot forward. The set-up brings the three leads together, somewhat unconvincingly, but then the nature of their first meeting then requires them to sit and wait for the plot to come to them, then run away when it does, rinse and repeat. So it does become more about the characters and the smaller details, and there are some wonderful smaller moments, but also some dreadful ones (and if you don’t plant your face in your palm when one of the characters mistakenly eats pot pourri, you’re reading the wrong review).

Sadly, the real factor which keeps this from being anything better than average is the pedestrian direction (would you want “From the director of My Cousin Vinny and the remake of Sgt. Bilko” on your poster?), which has the amateur-dramatic feel of too much mid-range British comedy, and doesn’t help serve any kind of momentum. Overall, Wild Target is quietly and sporadically enjoyable (put that on the poster – I dare you), with just enough to satisfy curiosity, but it rarely flies, and sadly too often… sorry, couldn’t resist… misses the target.

Why see it at the cinema: We can only hope that supporting this will give Nighy and Blunt the chance to be in better material at a cinema near you soon. And if you’re into Ron Weasley, you do see him with his shirt off. (Not sure if that’s a recommendation or not…)

The Score: 5/10

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