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DINNER GAME, THE (Dîner de cons, Le)(director/writer: Francis Veber; cinematographer: Luciano Tovoli; editor: Georges Klotz; cast: Jacques Villeret (Francois Pignon), Thierry Lhermitte (Pierre Brochant), Francis Huster (Just LeBlanc), Daniel Prevost (Cheval), Alexandra Vandernoot (Christine), Catherine Frot (Marlene), Christian Pereira (Professor Sorbier); Runtime: 78; Lions Gate releasing; 1998-France)
There were a few laughs to be had, but this is really TV sitcom material and not drama of great wit.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Francis Veber writes farcical plays which are then made into popular films. The Dinner Game is such a scenario. The plot is about a bunch of wealthy intellectual snobs who get pleasure from having a dinner for idiots every week, where each guest finds someone he thinks is the supreme idiot and brings him to dinner without the idiot knowing the dinner’s purpose.

Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) is the snooty Parisian book publisher, a calculating smoothy. He is someone who derives great pleasure from these dinners where the hosts relish in their guest’s lack of sophistication and when they leave they have a good laugh over it, choosing the one they think is the biggest idiot for the evening. He thinks he has come up with the best idiot of all time in someone he met on the train, whose hobby is putting matchsticks together of famous Paris structures, Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret). Francois knows how many matchsticks goes into every bridge and tower he creates. The lowly bureaucrat in the finance department is lured to the dinner when Pierre tells him he might get a book published about his hobby.

Most of the film will take place in Pierre’s luxurious apartment as Pierre invites his rotund and loquacious guest over to his house before they go to dinner, telling his guest that this will give them a chance to get acquainted. But just before the dinner the writer pulls his back out of place and is not up to attending the dinner, which leaves him stuck in his apartment with the idiot. Pignon also has a tiff with his very attractive wife Christine (Vandernoot), who walks out on him saying that she has had enough of his mean-spirited attitude towards others.

Some might find this fast-moving play to be smart and witty. But I didn’t. The joke here is that Pignon turns the tables on the rich snob and makes his life a mess, as he remains in the apartment and tries to help his new friend Pierre get Christine back. Pignon does that mainly through phone conversations, whereby he has a knack for saying the wrong thing and making things worst. What results is a series of foul-ups between Pierre’s wife, his mistress (Frot), a taxman (Prevost) who says he will audit him, and with Pierre’s wife finally being more upset with him than before.

Jacques Villeret is an appealing fool whose good heart shines throughout the farce, even though he proves to be a true numbskull. Thierry Lhermitte is in fine form as the handsome but deeply troubled man who is caught in his own trap. There were a few laughs to be had, but this is really TV sitcom material and not drama of great wit.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”