Dinner For Schmucks

Director    Jay Roach
Starring    Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Bruce Greenwood, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Ron Livingston
Release    30 JUL (US) 2 SEP (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


1st September 2010

A dinner party usually means making futile small talk with the bloke sitting opposite, struggling to figure out what fork to use first or worrying that your tie is dangling in the soup. It's a good job, then, that French director Francis Veber spiced up this meek institution by inviting a few prize idiots along for his 1998 film, Le Diner De Cons. But for those who happened to miss it - and let's face it, that's probably most of us - Jay Roach has remade it for us uncultured yobs who prefer crude gags, silly accents and Steve Carell going all out with the sillies.

Like its French counterpart, Dinner For Schmucks features a dinner party the Mad Hatter would be proud of - and that's where the resemblance ends. After impressing his boss, financial executive Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) is invited to a dinner party at his home. After discovering the guests have to invite an eccentric individual simply to make fun of, he questions his invite, but after a chance meeting with the seemingly perfect dinner guest - a socially retarded amateur taxidermist called Barry (Steve Carell) who specialises in elaborate dioramas featuring dead mice - Tim rethinks his options.

[gallery]Depending which side of the table you're on, or whether you've got a tolerance for idiots, it's left to you to decide who the titular 'schmucks' in question are - an ambiguous idea that leaves the film's title open to interpretation. Don't worry though; you won't have to do this until late in the film when they eventually sit down to the long-awaited meal. In the meantime, we're left with Paul Rudd playing it incredibly straight, struggling to keep his wife happy while with his new-found buddy goes all Mr. Bean on him.
Barry Speck is easily Carell's finest character in years, up there with Brick Tamland and Andy Stitzer. He's the most exasperating person you could ever hope to meet: Barry is impervious to insult and literally doesn't have a clue. But he's happy, lovable, at peace with himself and his heart's in the right place. Unfortunately, Carell overshadows Rudd, giving him no choice but to simply sit back and be the straight man whilst he gets all the laughs.

Rudd's case isn't helped by the hugely impressive, over-exaggerated supporting cast, drowning out his joyless character even more. Cse in point: Flight Of The Conchords' Jemaine Clement. Donning the role Hank Azaria would've filled a few years back, Clement's extravagant, sexually-fuelled semi-naked artist Kieran Vollard runs away with the film.

This is more than can be said for Zach Galifianakis' mind-reading tax auditor, who misses the mark entirely. But with the chance to put on comical accents, David Walliams' perma-tanned Swiss businessman and Chris O'Dowd's blind fencing champion more than make up for Galifianakis's missed opportunity.

It may not honour its source material, and a couple of the bigger players get neglected by dull, underwritten roles, but Dinner For Schmucks is funnier than it deserves to be. You could even argue that it's a commentary on society, where the people who deviate from the norm are the ones ridiculed by those who are scared to be different. But all in all, this is a classy dinner party that's well worth attending - just mind the soup.

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