Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Tim (Paul Rudd) works for a financial company where the executives hold exclusive parties that the guests invite some unsuspecting eccentric losers so they can ridicule them. The biggest idiot even earns a prize (not that it’s one to enjoy, though they’re unaware of the joke being played on them, I guess). Tim, essentially a nice guy, wants to move up in the corporate world, and suggests to his boss (a thankless Bruce Greenwood) he can get a wealthy Swiss tycoon (David Walliams) on board as a client. As a result, Tim is invited to the next dinner party. But where will he find a suitable guest? He literally hits one with his car, accidentally. He’s Barry (Steve Carell), an IRS worker who jumped in front of Tim’s car to save a dead mouse. You see, he collects them. And fixes them up to fit into a diorama where they appear in all sorts of human settings. Yes, he’s a tax man and a taxidermist. Oh, the hilarity.

Unfortunately, Barry’s also an extremely overbearing, irritating human embodiment of Murphy’s Law, and they haven’t even gone to dinner yet before Barry is ruining Tim’s relationship with art gallery owner girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) by confusing her for a clingy stalker Barry had thought to have gotten rid of years ago (a rather grotesque Lucy Punch). The stalker wouldn’t even be at Tim’s apartment had Barry not taken upon himself to use Barry’s computer and chat with her (Seriously, who does that?). Szostak (who disapproves of the dinner party, by the way) is also clearly being pursued by uber-pretentious, hedonistic and frankly weird New Zealand artist Kieran (Jemaine Clement), which Barry’s interfering also causes Tim to become insanely jealous about. Ron Livingston plays Tim’s schmuck rival, Chris O’Dowd is a blind swordsman (don’t ask), Zach Galifianakis is Barry’s IRS rival (who is sleeping with Barry’s ex and claims to have mind control), and Kristen Schaal is Tim’s friendly, geeky-looking secretary.

A remake of a French film called “The Dinner Game” (in English anyway), this American comedy from director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”, “Meet the Parents”) is reasonably competently done for what it is trying to be. It’s just that it’s one of the most off-putting and annoying experiences I’ve ever had. It’s not even funny. The mouse dioramas were interesting, but otherwise I hated every minute of it, and I doubt it’s a lost in translation thing. “Meet the Parents” it ain’t. Hell, even “The Jerk” (another comedy about an idiot) was more tolerable than this.

The plot is kind of objectionable and cruel without being funny, and I found it hard to work out who the schmucks were because to be honest, I loathed every one of the characters to a degree. Comedians Carell (who I normally like but felt as though he was channelling the irritatingly juvenile Tom Green here) and Galifianakis (who I seriously do not like in anything I’ve seen him in) play their excruciating roles quite well, but I wasn’t laughing. Carell’s eccentricities actually weren’t the problem (so far as the dead mice diorama thing goes anyway), it’s his absolute lack of awareness of his inappropriate social behaviour at times. It made the character not only unlikeable, but not remotely credible. I just didn’t buy the character as being from this Earth at all. Co-lead actor Paul Rudd is hopelessly miscast as the ‘nice’ guy in the film. The guy seems like such a smart-arsey jerk that I really can’t respond to him in roles where I’m meant to have any sympathy for him. It’s such a shame that the talented Ron Livingston gets cast as the slimeball co-worker, because he and Rudd would be so much better cast in each other’s roles.

Meanwhile, the gross comic caricatures played by Walliams and Clement (the latter playing the role of Russell Brand, it would seem) are overdone and not funny in the slightest. In fact, none of these characters are well-written, they’re all overdone caricatures (the crazy ex-girlfriend/stalker in particular), so who the hell cares? I certainly didn’t. Everyone here is working hard, but I found it all irritating, juvenile, and completely unbelievable, even in the realm of a comedic setting. The plot, the characters (who are all schmucks to be honest), the behaviour (no one acts like anybody I’ve ever come across, let alone would want to), the acting, you name it. But the mice were interesting. And yet, I think this film was made this way intentionally, this looks to be the film Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman wanted to make (and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Sacha Baron Cohen was originally meant to have the lead role, it’s his kind of uncomfortable, ‘cringe comedy’). Great, but it didn’t appeal to me in the slightest, and at nearly two hours, it ends up somewhat soul-crushing.

You might like the film, hell you might even think it’s hilarious. Like I said, it’s not exactly been poorly directed or anything, but I didn’t like it and it was seriously unfunny (a big surprise from Mr. Roach, who gave us one of the best comedies of the 00s, “Meet the Parents”, which had great comedic timing). I wanted to be somewhere else but watching this film, to be honest.

Rating: C-


  1. I didn't see the remake, but the original French movie (the title "Diner de cons" can be literally translated as "Dinner of arses") was a big hit in France, because everyone there (and outside of France, I'm afraid) knows how mean and obnoxious the Parisians can be (heck, I was told to take French lessons when I studied there and it's my native language, for heaven's sake!). The original movie was made by Francis Weber, I believe, who did some box office hit comedies, some which with Pierre Richard in the 70's were even hilarious. The main character in "Le diner de cons" (played by wonderful Thierry LHermitte) actually enjoys these dinners and mocking the poor buggers from the "province" (anything outside Paris is "provincial" and stupid - and this is not even an exageration). Of course, such a premise could never have worked in an American movie, because even the New Yorkers are not as big snobs as the Parisians. The hobby of the second lead is not as wild as making dioramas of dead mouses, but he does matches-models of all the main French monuments : the Arc-de-triomphe, the Eiffel tower, le pont sur le Gard, and so on. I was surprised the Americans even thought of remaking this movie : the cold, mean, urbane mockery being itself mocked here is just too essentially Parisian, no one who is not French can laugh at that, not even I.

  2. Yeah, I've not seen the original, but I'm aware of the director's other films, some of which have also been remade.


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