I'm always leery when I hear a film is coming out that's a remake of a foreign film, adapted for American audiences. It seems to be happening more and more, and I fear that the main reason is not due to cultural differences, but the large majority of our population simply uninterested in seeing a film that requires reading subtitles. Well, that and we think we can make the same movie bigger and better.
Hollywood typically "Americanizes" tasteful "art" films, usually by inflating them with bigger budgets, bigger names, and so on and so forth. It's like comparing McDonald's to a home-grilled burger- I like to refer to these movies as "processed". Sometimes, the results are full of flavor, like Robin Williams in The Birdcage, but most often, the results are inedible: Jimmy Fallon in Taxi.
Luckily, like the American version of The Office, Jay Roach's Dinner for Schmucks, which is based on Francis Veber's French comedy The Dinner Game, lands on the tasty side. I must mention The Office, because, much like the transplanted television show, Schmucks relies heavily on Steve Carell's portrayal of a clueless dimwit to succeed.
Carell plays Barry Speck, an eccentric idiot who's a government tax auditor by day and amateur taxidermist by night. Barry spends his free time stuffing mice for his dioramas, completely clueless to the fact that he might be insane, or at least gloriously dimwitted. Unsurprisingly, though, Barry isn't the main character.
That pleasure would go to Paul Rudd's Tim Conrad, an up-and-coming company man who's looking to get ahead any way he can. Tim's boss, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood) is a cruel and unusual son-of-a-bitch who hosts an unusual monthly dinner party where the invitees must compete to bring the most idiotic guest, so the elite pigs hosting the dinner can get a good laugh at their expense.
Tim's a nice guy, so he initially declines Lance's offer, even though he realizes the potential advancement it could offer him. When he accidentally runs over Barry with his car, however, Tim decides that Barry is the atomic bomb of schmucky dinner guests.
The centerpiece of the film is the long and uproarious dinner scene that follows, which starts out as a cheeky social satire and eventually devolves into a slapstick circus. Among the guests are Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement, Comedy Central's Jeff Dunham playing a wacked-out ventriloquist, and The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis, up to his usual antics.
It's a tough crowd to compete with, but Carell owns the show, and rightly so- he's had plenty of practice playing a nitwit on television. Paul Rudd manages to stay innocent, even though his actions could be perceived as being malicious, he's really only going to the dinner to get a leg up on his career. I guess that's fair, after all, the real idiots at the party are the hosts.
Director Jay Roach gives us the dinner party that the French counterpart shied away from. Like all things American, it's bigger and badder- The Whopper of social spectacles. But even when the film goes full retard on us, Carell and Rudd keep the antics grounded in reality.
Carell always plays Barry with conviction, as if even he's clueless to the fact that the man is a complete dunce, while Rudd does well as the semi-heroic "nice guy in a bad situation". If it wasn't for these two guys in the driver's seat, I shudder at what kind of over-indulgence might have been served up.
It's pretty far from The 40 Year-Old Virgin and just shy of I Love You, Man, but Dinner For Schmucks will give you a nice chuckle with its tongue-in-cheek "Eat the Rich" mentality.