Dinner For Schmucks review -
Who’s the schmuck in Jay Roach’s Americanisation of Le Dîner De Cons?
Paul Rudd’s Tim, an ambitious financier keen to curry favour with boss Bruce Greenwood? Steve Carell’s Barry, the social misfit Tim invites to Greenwood’s monthly bring-a-buffoon soirée? Or the humble punter who trots along to this re-do of a decade-old French farce expecting it to be consistently funny?
Rewiring a Gallic romp for the mainstream didn’t work for Wild Target and it doesn’t work here, despite Carell’s tireless mugging and a cast of international comedic talent (Zach The Hangover Galifianakis, David Little Britain Walliams).
That is partly due to a failure of nerve, co-writers David Guion and Michael Handelman balking at making Rudd as repellent or Carell as doltish as their Gallic counterparts. But it’s also down to a change in sensibility, as Roach opts to ramp up the slapstick instead of keeping faith with the 1998 version’s acerbic linguistic wit.
Which would be fine if the pratfalls were amusing and the awkward situations Barry places Tim in delivered on their initial promise.
Sadly, our time in their company is spent vainly searching for a chuckle, their frantic encounters with Clement’s self-loving artist or Lucy Punch’s psycho-vamp running out of steam almost before they begin.
Things pick up a bit in time for the titular banquet, a set-piece Francis Veber’s picture omitted. But by declining to embrace the essential meanspiritedness at the heart of his story, Roach serves up a bland starter that leaves you salivating for an entrée that never arrives.
Still, in one department, his movie deserves a Michelin star – the elaborate dioramas Carell’s character fashions from stuffed mice decked out in fetching miniature costumes.
Modelled on the likes of Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Whistler’s Mother, these marvellous “mouse-terpieces” are hilarious, endearing and a little bit disturbing. Everything that Dinner For Schmucks should be but isn’t.