Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Paul Rudd, Steve Carell
Runtime: 114 mins
“That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.” (Isaac Asimov)
Remakes have a difficult time in the modern world of film, since they usually try and re-imagine a concept which is jealously guarded by the viewer, and they require walking a very fine tightrope to satisfy both the purists and the newcomers. Surely Dinner for Schmucks would have an easier time of it, based as it is on a celebrated, but not globally popular, cult French comedy brought out in 1998 called Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game). Francis Veber’s Le Dîner de Cons is itself adapted from a stage play of the same name, written by Veber. In short, therefore, we have a film of a film of a play, and one that ultimately cannot live up to either of its predecessors.
It is hardly a weak cast, as Steve Carell and Paul Rudd have more than proved their comedic worth, notably in Bruce and Evan Almighty, and I Love You, Man, but here Carell is cruelly limited to his rubber-faced, quasi-autistic shtick reminiscent of his character Brick in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It isn’t that Carell’s character, a gold-hearted fool named Barry, is dislikeable, it’s just that the repeated insistence of his inability to function in the outside world soon becomes vaguely irritating, as opposed to endearing. Despite this, we find ourselves rooting for Barry, willing him to prove himself to Tim (Paul Rudd’s character) and take back his wife from his nemesis, played to perfection by Zach Galifianakis. What follows, at the Dinner, could not be more anti-climactic. I refuse to spoil it, but, apart from the ‘dreamers’ speech, I found it slim reward for the monotony of the rest of the film.
The one redeeming feature of this film has to be Barry’s ‘mouse-terpieces’. Since Barry is an amateur taxidermist, he collects dead mice (one of which is in the road, hit by Tim’s car and thereby spiralling off the film’s chain of events) and dresses them for dioramas. These dioramas, hand-made for the film by a team of artists, have to be some of the coolest things I have ever seen in a movie. Whether representing great works of art or historical events, the ‘mouse-terpieces’ replace the matchstick models of the original French comedy and never fail to raise a smile for the audience.
Overall, Dinner for Schmucks is a flawed comedy, one that tries too hard with too little. It is funny in places, but a few laughs and singular moments of genius never manage to lift this off the ground and into the echelons of ‘unmissable’ comedy.