Having never had the opportunity to see Francis Veber’s 1998 film The Dinner Game, or Le diner de cons, I can’t truly say how its brand new American remake, Jay Roach’s Dinner for Schmucks, compares. The simple assumption, of course, is that this version is dumbed down for American consumption and another lazy idea undertaken to make an easy buck. Examining the film on its own merits shows something else entirely. If Dinner for Schmucks is simply a lethargic cash grab, it’s a surprisingly entertaining — though flawed — one.
The film is the latest in a style of comedy that can best be described as the idiot farce, where some rube runs roughshod in a flurry of slapstick over the lives of everyone around them. Unfortunately, these comedies seem only to ever reach the heights of a Mr. Bean episode, while more often than not skulking around the level of a Dumb and Dumber. Here, we get a film that’s a bit better than the usual offering for a few reasons.
The plot revolves around two men. The first is Tim (Paul Rudd), a suit at an equity firm who’s fighting desperately for a promotion. The second is Barry (Steve Carrell), an odd, nerdy man whose main passion in life is recreating famous works of art with home taxidermied mice he’s found dead in the street. The two men meet just after Tim’s boss (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek) has invited him to a dinner party, where each guest brings some fool, with the biggest idiot in attendance winning a trophy. When Tim sort of meets cute with Barry, by accidentally hitting him with his Porsche, he realizes he has the perfect dinner guest in the very bizarre Barry.
Once Barry has entered Tim’s life, the film becomes a nonstop parade of Barry simply screwing anything and everything up, from Tim’s relationship with his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak, The Devil Wears Prada) to simple, general property damage. What works in the movie’s favor — and helps the film be more palatable than the self-centered antics of a Mr. Bean — is the sweethearted nature that’s buried beneath everything. Barry’s disaster-prone disposition is born out of his desire to help out Tim as a friend, but this stems from the Barry’s general loneliness. Where he’s coming from is the relatable state of being alone.
It certainly helps that the film is never mean-spirited about this. Sure, the film can be a bit loud and frantic at times — and the movie’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach is exhausting when applied to the 114 minute runtime — but there’s nary even a bit of bathroom humor or gay joke to be found. The bottom line is that the film is better more often that it’s bad and while it’s not essential or even spectacular comedic viewing, the fact remains that you could do a lot worse. Rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language.