Dinner for Schmucks

Red lightIt’s not exactly surprising that Dinner for Schmucks – a Hollywood remake of Francis Veber’s gloriously nasty French farce The Dinner Game (1998) – takes a sardonically witty film and reshapes it into something palatable for the kind of audiences aptly described using the last word of its title.

If you loved the original film and were optimistic about what an American studio might do with it – though history might beckon the question “why?” – a schmuck is quite likely what you’ll feel like at the butt end of Meet the Parents director Jay Roach’s clumsy and shamelessly sentimental rehash.

Roach positions everyday man Paul Rudd (who couldn’t be more middle of the road if he spread his butt cheeks perfectly evenly across the white lines in the centre of a nondescript nuclear family nieghbourhood) opposite Steve Carrell, who again challenges his director to redirect the qualities of the pitch perfect performance he contributed to TV’s The Office. Again he leaves both of them looking lacking, as if Carrell were there but not really; as if he read lines from the set next door and came back to share a nibble in the lunch breaks.

No doubt Roach was taken in by Veber’s premise: each week a group of men pepped up on ego and hubris compete to bring the dumbest person they can find to a dinner party. Roach changes it to an annual event that takes place among the upper echelons of the corporation Tim (Rudd) wants to climb the rungs of. He aspires to please the big kahunas upstairs but has moral reservations about participating in their peculiar pastime.

Tim promises his fiancé that he’ll decline the invite but a chance encounter leads him to Barry (Carrell) a choice bozo who has a peculiar hobby of his own: arts and crafts using dead mice. He also has (presumably) some kind of undiagnosed intellectual disability.

As their relationship develops it soon becomes all too clear that Roach is preparing to dunk the audience head first into a bucket of milky morality moosh which will see Tim tussle with conflicting ideas before ultimately arriving where we always knew he would. And, if we didn’t “get it,” Rudd at game’s end will read out double underlined passages pre-rehearsed with his best puppy dog scrunch and go on a sanctimonious rant about who the real schmucks are and why.

This cringe-inducing culmination damn near spoils the decent things Dinner for Schmucks has to offer: an odd and somtimes effective chemistry between the two male stars and a sprinkling of genuinely funny moments, usually in the form of a whiff of slapstick or a sticky one-liner from Carrell or supporting stars Jemaine Clement (from Flight of the Conchords) and Chris O’Down (The IT Crowd), both of whom were plucked from the boob tube. And sadly that’s the place – if there is any – this rubbishy remake belongs.

Dinner for Schmucks’ Australian theatrical release date: September 30, 2010