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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dinner for Schmucks


Title: Dinner for Schmucks

Year of Release: 2010

Date Viewed: March 27th, 2011

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Today's pre-review joke: Paul Rudd's picture on the DVD cover is exactly how I looked while watching this movie.

A reworking of a French picture titled The Dinner Game, Dinner for Schmucks is about an executive named Tim (Paul Rudd) who will do just about anything to climb the corporate ladder and earn the coveted seventh floor office. After pitching a new business strategy, Tim gets the attention he is looking for but still has a rite of passage to complete before receiving the big promotion. The company's bigwigs like to organize dinner parties for their entertainment. But it's actually a game. To win, you have to bring along the biggest idiot you can find. Against his girlfriend's wishes, Tim decides to sell out his morals in order to win his first dinner game and impress the boss. It doesn't take long for the perfect schmuck to literally walk into his life.

Barry (Steve Carell) is an eccentric artist who has no friends except for the stuffed mice he uses for his dioramas. On his way to the neighborhood taxidermist, he nearly gets killed by crossing into the path of Tim's car. Seeing dollar signs, Tim invites Barry to the corporate dinner and offers to let him stay at his apartment for a while. Unfortunately for everyone, Barry has virtually no inhibitions and immediately tries to repair all of his new friend's personal issues including one involving an ex-girlfriend. All efforts turn Tim's life into an even bigger mess than before. With the party just days away, Tim's only hope in avoiding total life destruction is to keep his cool long enough for the big break to arrive.

Dinner for Schmucks had so much potential for some great comedic scenarios. Not a single one is realized. I once dubbed Steve Carell as the hardest working comedian in show business. I guess this proves even the best cannot save the worst written material. His character is supposed to be a lovable sidekick or at least I think he's meant to be this way. If that is the case, the writers failed. If not, they made a huge mistake. Barry's antics are worse than the kid we all remember from elementary school who thought he was the funniest guy on Earth but was actually the most annoying one. The reason that characters such as Steve Urkel or Alan from The Hangover work so well is that they are written to be annoying to everyone except the audience. Director Jay Roach has shown with Meet The Fockers that he understands why this is important. Unless I have different ideas on what constitutes as irritating, Roach missed an opportunity to get that point across.

And speaking of The Hangover, Zach Galifianakis shows up for a little while because he's a big Hollywood name right now. If he keeps getting roles like this, those days will be numbered. Galifianakis's I.R.S. agent character temporarily controls Barry's mind through psychic powers in one of many potentially funny scenes with no payoff. But none of them compare to when Tim's obnoxious ex-girlfriend tries to win him back with a lowbrow and painfully long striptease. I always watch a movie the entire way through to give it a fair chance. But when I realized there was still an hour left to watch after this point, the stop button looked mighty tempting.

One of the few moments that got a chuckle out of me was when Barry confuses Nelson Mandela with Morgan Freeman. Sadly, this joke appears in the trailer, is repeated and it only works if you remember that Freeman played Mandela in another movie. For this movie's sake, let's hope Invictus doesn't become too dated in the near future or there will be nothing left.

In my review for Let Me In, I noted that a big reason for why foreign films do not always get the remake treatment they deserve is because the studio misinterprets what made the original popular in the first place. Dinner for Schmucks is the perfect example. I haven't seen the original French film. But from what I've read, the script was filled with social satire and clever dialogue; neither of which are found here. Judging from the DVD outtakes, a moderate to large percentage of this movie was probably improvised. I am not against that practice, but it's shameful to throw away a perfectly good premise just to compete with your co-star for the biggest laugh. The aforementioned "dinner" doesn't even begin until the final twenty minutes. By then it's too late for us to fully appreciate the motley crew of idiots that deserved to be in a better movie.

With so much credible talent involved in the project, Dinner for Schmucks is amazingly disappointing. The only real schmuck was me for watching it. Don't be the next one.

Rating: 2

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