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DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (director: Jay Roach; screenwriters: David Guion/Michael Handelman/based on the film written and directed by Francis Veber; cinematographer: Jim Denault; editors: Alan Baumgarten/Jon Poll; music: Theodore Shapiro; cast: Steve Carell (Barry Speck), Paul Rudd (Tim Conrad), Jemaine Clement (Kieran Vollard), Jeff Dunham (Lewis the Ventriloquist), Bruce Greenwood (Lance Fender), RonLivingston (Caldwell), Zach Galifianakis (Therman), Lucy Punch (Darla), Larry Wilmore (Williams), Stephanie Szostak (Julie), David Walliams (Müeller), Kristen Schaal (Susana); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Walter F. Parkes/Laurie MacDonald/Jay Roach; Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment; 2010)
Filled with audacious silly behavior, none of which has an edge to make its comedy sharp.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This misogynistic film is based on the 1998 French black comedy known in English as “The Dinner Game,” that’s directed by Francis Veber.

Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”/”Mystery, Alaska”/”Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”) energetically directs this mean-spirited comedy but reins it in with a sweetly sentimental tacked-on ending to make things more gentle. The premise has an American financial company’s top executives invite eccentric idiots for dinner so they can be entertained by the unsuspecting losers and mockingly reward the greatest idiot guest a trophy. It’s written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, who can’t manage to stop it from being so flatly written despite the lively performances. The film is merely an excuse to lay on us some cheap jokes, which are mostly more malicious than funny, while examining in a halfhearted way the cruelty involved in climbing the corporate-ladder.

Low in status in his LA equity firm is nice-guy financial analyst Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd), who aspires a promotion when a top-executive is fired. Tim sells the oily boss, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood), on the idea that he can hook in a wealthy Swiss businessman Müeller (David Walliams) to be a client and invest a 100 million dollars. As a result the go-getter gets an invite to the dinner for schmuckswith the condition he invites a schmuck to impress the boss (competing with office bigwigs Ron Livingston and Larry Wilmore) and if things go well he’ll get the promotion. Tim believes a promotion will impress his art gallery owner girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), the ideal soul mate, to accept his marriage proposal. Julie disapproves of the vulgar dinner and doesn’t want him to attend, but Tim can’t resist when he accidentally meets the perfect dork sap, Barry Speck (Steve Carell), whom he hits when Barry jumps in front of his Porsche to rescue a dead mouse. It turns out the uninjured Barry is an IRS worker, whose hobby is creating dioramas featuring stuffed mice dressed as humans. Barry shows up at Tim’s apartment a day early and through his aggressive meddling in Tim’s affairs manages to cause a rupture in Tim’s relationship with Julie, get Tim unnecessarily jealous over an animistic self-absorbed self-important artist (Jemaine Clement), manage to get Tim a tax audit through his weirdo brain-control maven co-worker (Zach Galifianakis), invite the role-playing violent sexpot stalker Darla (Lucy Punch) that Tim has tried avoiding for the last three years to his apartment and, all the while, the well-meaning but destructive Barry only manages to make things worse when he tries to correct his mistakes.

The overlong, padded film climaxes at the absurd dinner party, where a number of idiots, including the pathetic unaware idiot savantBarry, compete for the trophy. Filled with audacious silly behavior, none of which has an edge to make its comedy sharp, Carell and Rudd (a pair of lightweight comics) try to salvage this repulsive dinner date pic by playing so well off each other with pitch perfect timing and remaining likable despite the conceit of the film calling for the humor to be scathing rather than so soft. At the end we are made to feel bad at laughing at the schmuck for most of the film when, I guess, the filmmaker shows that the dork has talent and doesn’t deserve that kind of derision–which seems hypocritical because the film for the most part is all about laughing at losers.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”