Dinner for Schmucks. Starring Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Stephanie Szostak and David Walliams. Directed by Jay Roach. Rated M (sexual references and infrequent coarse language). 113 mins.
Schmuck (a Yiddish word) means an idiot, and this is an American version of Francis Veber’s hilarious 1998 French hit Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game) about a contest between a group of businessmen to see who can invite the biggest idiot to be a guest at their regular dinners. Unfortunately, the adjective hilarious cannot remotely be applied in this case.
Veber is a writer-director with a gift for farce, and with The Dinner Game he was at his best. Admittedly, he had the priceless presence of Jacques Villeret as sad little François Pignon, completely obsessed with his hobby of making replicas of famous landmarks out of matches, but his film was everything a comedy should be — played deadpan, acted with finesse and exemplary comic timing and dealt with in about 80 minutes.
By contrast, Dinner for Schmucks is some 33 minutes longer, is bogged down in needless and unfunny dialogue and is saddled with three insufferable characters I defy anyone to like.
Having said that, the film has a most appealing romantic twosome, Paul Rudd, as the pivotal character Tim, and Stephanie Szostak as his girlfriend Julie, and Steve Carell (American TV’s The Office, the movie Date Night) works hard to create something amusing out of the chief schmuck, Barry, a taxidermist whose “idiotic” preoccupation is dressing up deceased mice in miniature outfits.
Tim, chasing promotion at work, accepts an invitation from his boss to attend the dinner for idiots. Literally bumping into Barry on the street and, once introduced to his mouse hobby (stuffed mice arranged like Da Vinci’s Last Supper, another smiling enigmatically as the Mousa Lisa), realises he has found the perfect candidate to be his “idiot”.
Trouble is, Barry turns up at Tim’s apartment 24 hours early and proceeds to disrupt his life in more ways than you could think possible, including causing a rift with girlfriend Julie.
The film claims only to be “inspired by” the Veber original, so scriptwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman take liberties, expanding Veber’s lean, economical plotline to include new material, such as scenes with Tim’s office colleagues and a visiting Swiss millionaire (Little Britain’s David Walliams) and the character of a randy artist (Jemaine Clement) with designs on Julie, all of which is pure padding.
The film has some mildly funny moments sprinkled through it — not enough is made of Barry’s malapropisms, such as “curled up in a fecal position” — but director Jay Roach ( Meet the Parents, the Austin Powers films) has not paced the film brightly enough to pull the audience along. Mostly, we sit glumly through one unfunny scene after another, culminating in a shambles at the actual dinner when grown men start jumping around in an infantile manner.
Perhaps that sums up the difference between The Dinner Game and Dinner for Schmucks: Veber’s characters were ordinary, mostly likeable human beings with foibles; these schmucks are exaggerated caricatures.
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 30