Dinner for Schmucks
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Crude and Sexual Content, Some Partial Nudity and Language
Film Length: 114 Mins
Video: 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Review Date: December 28, 2010
Vincent Van Gogh. Everyone said to him, "You can't be a great painter, you only have one ear." And you know what he said? "I can't hear you.”
1998’s Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game), a French film by filmmaker Francis Veber, is a delight of farce and absurdity, choosing brevity for its levity, it delivers solidly against its premise while never succumbing to unnecessary distractions or padding for comedic complexity. It is, then, somewhat of a model for today’s less than inspiring accomplishments in the realm of cinematic farce which seems to be in a lull.
Dinner for Shmucks, which is listed as having been ‘inspired’ by the original, enjoys some success in producing chaos and comedic calamity from the ‘idiot’ antics of the targeted schmuck, but alas, falters in properly modeling the elements of the original that grounded both the absurdity and the characters in the realm of the relatable – or at the very least – the reasonable.
The Film: 3 out of 5
Tim is vying for a job on the 7th floor; the coveted floor of victors at Fender Financial, where he works (on the 6th floor which smells like cabbage, apparently), as a financial analyst with designs on greater things. After successfully pitching an idea to the senior leaders of the firm for whom he works, his brazenness is noticed by the head of the company who believes Tim may have what it takes to make it to a brand new office on that coveted seventh floor. Tim is invited to his boss’s secret dinner; an event where the invitees must bring along with them the biggest fool. The person who brings the greatest fool will win respect from the head honcho. Tim, to secure that corner office, must locate a sucker to bring to that dinner. As if by fate, Tim literally runs into Barry, an odd individual who ran out in front of Tim’s Porsche to save a dead mouse from being run over. As it happens, Barry, a peculiarly silly IRS worker, recreates famous works of art using deceased rodents as the figures of that art, and that alone makes Barry a prime candidate to be the unfortunate schmuck and the intended target of Tim and the secret Fender dinner event.
Little does Tim realize however that Barry is far more oblivious and catastrophic a fool than he bargained for, and before the dinner even begins, Tim’s life is turned upside down and inside out, and pried forcefully from the grooves of normalcy.
Blending physical, farcical, facial, and the occasional phrasal comedy, Dinner for Schmucks strives for the same tone of chaos as the original, and at times finds a good balance between the obnoxiousness of Barry’s oblivion to the catastrophic effect he has on Tim, and the empathetic, drawn sympathy for his circumstance and wanting.
With Steve Carell (The Office) as Barry, and the increasingly ubiquitous Paul Rudd (I Love You, Man) as Tim, the lead roles in Shmucks are in capable comedic hands. Carell pushes the limits for his blindness to social norms and the obvious to its limit, but plays his character with an innate vulnerability so that he mostly avoids becoming a dislikable caricature (though he comes close from time to time). At times, in some of the less outrageous moments, Carell’s Barry appears to be a reincarnation of his Michael Scott character from NBC’s The Office, and honestly, tailoring this character to fit that mold may have worked better than the more excessive version found here. Rudd seems equally capable as the straight man as he does playing opposite a straight man. Here, he is given opportunity to test both as in scenes with Carell he is required to play foil to the escalating silliness, but without Carell, must become the creator of his own mess. Rudd is a likeable actor with good facial comedic timing, and as his life dips from bad to worse (his girlfriend leaves him, his crazy ex-one-night-stand resurfaces, etc.), we are able to feel his pain and laugh at the maelstrom of madness he has become embroiled in of his own doing.
Dinner for Schmucksalso achieves a solid comedy cast, including talent from around the world that adds different forms of shtick to the mix. From the brilliant New Zealand Flight of the Conchords duo is Jemaine Clement as the self-indulgent artiste, Kieran, the man whom Tim’s long-time girlfriend (played by the lovely French actress Stephanie Szostak) serves as curator of his pieces. Jemaine provides his character with a fun blend of inflated ego and sexual dynamism. From the UK’s Little Britain is David Williams as multi-millionaire Müeller, a potent and unusual man with a quirky sensibility. In addition, the cast includes the off-beat comedy of Zack Galifianakis as the IRS/Mind-control talent Sherman (a scene stealer every time), Ron Livingston (Office Space) as Caldwell, Larry Wilmore as Williams, and Lucy Punch as the Tim-obsessed Darla.
Despite several positives, the sum of Dinner for Schmucks ultimately disappoints. Jay Roach, best known for directing the hugely popular comedies Meet the Parents and the Austin Powers films, impedes the comedic flow of individual talents on too many occasions, and supplants more tacit moments with easier, lazier avenues for jokes. Where the original Le dîner de cons succeeds in unfolding chaos and comedy from the premise at a natural pace, and with more fluid and funny outcomes, Dinner for Schmucks must invent now tired circumstances to squeeze as much life out of the set-up as possible. Sad then, that the potential of solid comedic talents besting each other around a dinner table is a scene relegated to near the very last portion of the film, as the lead-up to the dinner is exploited with less than original conceits.
These issues are not to be borne by director Roach alone. The Screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handleman deviates from what ultimately worked best in the French original and chooses the path of least resistance to mine for comedy. The end result is a film that is able to provide some solid giggles from time to time, and excursions into the talents of some terrific comedians. Zach Galifianakis’s first scene almost steals the entire movie, and from time to time, Carell lets loose enough to create some spontaneous hilarity, but all in all, we’ve seen these predicaments before, and the premise itself was too successfully explored in the original, and much shorter, Le dîner de cons. At 114 minutes, we should have been witness to sublime witty banter and a movie that says something about how society entertains itself today. It does not.
The Video: 4 out of 5
Correctly framed at 1.78:1 with an AVC encoded image, Dinner for Schmucks looks very, very good on High Definition blu-ray at 1080P. From the opening sequence, which explores an impressive mouse-populated diorama full of lush greens, soft blues, and warm yellows, the brightness of this comedy is apparent. Detail is very good, with textures represented clearly, skin-tones natural, and an appropriate amount of film grain to warrant praise for discretion with DNR. The location for the dinner is filled with deep and rich colors, hardwoods, stain-glass art, and room adornments that each command attention. The image is great for a comedy, and bold as expected.
The Sound: 4 out of 5
Paramount and Dreamworks Pictures deliver Dinner with Shmucks with a very good English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track. Theodore Shapiro’s less than subtle comedy score is pronounced most of the time throughout the audio dimensions providing cues for when we are to find things funny and silly; dialogue is clean in the center channel, the occasional crash and smash of furniture and other items gives some opportunity for directional effect and some thumping of the subwoofer, and all are delivered with the requisite level of precision and clarity.
The Extras: 3 out of 5
The Biggest Schmucks in the World (HD) (15:05): Featuring the cast, this behind the scenes look is fairly standard stuff.
Schmuck Ups (HD) (8:15): Over eight minutes for outtakes as the cast forget lines, fail to keep straight faces, and riff themselves into fits of giggles.
Deleted Scenes (HD) (9:13): Several deleted scenes and alternate takes add just a hint of more information about the characters, though seemed well suited for the cutting room floor.
The Men Behind the Mousterpieces (HD) (11:36): The Chiodo brothers created all of the Mouster-pieces found in the film (some of them actually rather splendid), and this feature explores some of their creations.
Meet the Winners (HD) (3:45): Several of the peculiar characters share their oddness.
Paul and Steve: The Decision (HD) (3:49): An interesting spoof of the LeBron James press conference previously shown at the ESPY’s.
There are laughs to be found with Dinner for Schmucks, though not as many as the premise, talent, and promise would have you believe. Overall this is somewhat of a letdown. Director Jay Roach, along with the screenwriters, seems to have taken the path well-traveled to arrive at their laughs and that does not always work out. Instead of slapstick with nuance, all we have is slapstick with nothing more than what is most obvious. The laughs mostly come signed and sealed and reveal nothing new for us to enjoy. You will likely see a few steps ahead of the giggles at every turn, and even when the individual comedic talent should be allowed to revel in their characters, Director Roach cuts away for unnecessary reactions rather than letting comedy rise from comedians riffing unencumbered. Worth a rental as long as you know what to expect.
Overall 3 out of 5