Dinner for Schmucks is a remake of a French film which translates out to The Dinner Game. The remake features an impressive comedic cast. So impressive in fact, that it created, at least for me, an expectation that was not met. This is not to say that the film wasn’t funny, there are certainly many funny moments, it is simply that the laughs are not at a consistent enough level to match the comedic talents of the cast.
A High Quality Comedic Cast
Paul Rudd is Tim, an executive-type who is trying to climb the proverbial ladder in order to afford a lifestyle which he believes will convince his girlfriend Julie, played by the lovely Stephanie Szostak, to finally acquiesce to his marriage proposals. Tim must find an “idiot” to invite to a cruel dinner game organized by the upper-crust members of this corporate world to secure his promotion and the acquiring of a big-time contract for the firm.
This is where Steve Carrell enters the picture as Tim’s “Idiot”. Carrell plays IRS worker Barry whose main focus in life are the recreations of scenes from his life, history and famous artworks through the taxidermy of mice. It seems very morbid and strange, but the taxidermy art actually has a certain charm and illustrative style to it.
Rudd makes full use of his “every-man” personality, which makes him so identifiable to audience members. He is the Dean Martin to Carrell’s Jerry Lewis in Dinner for Schmucks. The duo’s nemeses are Kieran, played by Jemaine Clement and Therman played by Zach Galifinakis. Clement steals most of the scenes he is in as the modern artist represented by Tim’s girlfriend. Likewise Galifinakis makes good use of his screen-time as the Barry’s boss (he also stole the poor man’s wife).
The Moral of the Story Is…?
Ultimately besides trying get laughs there’s a message in there somewhere about what we value in our personal relationships and what lengths people will go to meet goals. Dinner for Schmucks wants you to question whether achievements are worth it if they mean coming at the expense of other people, be they strangers or loved ones. Having the message there is a good thing, though at times it feels like a gimmick there to justify the comedy.
Which brings us back to the inconsistency of the comedy in the film. The film at various points is trying to hard, or at least, being to obvious about trying to create a laugh. From the cheap humor garnered from Rudd’s character throwing his back out like an America’s Funniest Home Videos episode (look he’s in pain, funny!!), to the over-the-top acting of the woman who plays Rudd’s stalker, these moments seem forced. A fair amount of the moments with Galifinakis fall into that over-the-top category as well.
Dinner for Schmucks is at is funniest when it is using that “less is more” philosophy. It’s the subtle facial expressions or movements from Carrell, Clement and Galifinakis that were worthy of the most laughs. The same is true of the rest of the cast of “idiots” from the dinner scene. The more subtle the character, the funnier they were, such as the blind fencer. In the end, Dinner for Schmucks is a fairly middle-of-the-road comedy. I wouldn’t recommend shilling out full price at the theater for it, yet there are enough laughs to warrant a rental down the line or maybe a viewing at a second-run theater. Perhaps the source material didn’t allow for this cast to truly shine.