sat 29/02/2020

Dinner for Schmucks | reviews, news & interviews

Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks

One for taxidermists only - you stand forewarned

Off the menu, or what? Steve Carell and Paul Rudd redefine witless

There's a fascination that comes with films/ plays/ you choose the art form that contain within them their own critique: the sort of thing you find, for instance, in Chekhov done badly when one character or another opines about how "boring" proceedings have become, and you are tempted to nod in assent. But it's been some while since I sat through anything that shoots itself in the foot with such witless insistence as Dinner for Schmucks, the sickliest and most craven of the numerous "bromances" to come down the cinematic pike of late.

For a brief while, it's rather entertaining cataloguing the moments in which the director Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers) lards the narrative with unwitting, or so one assumes, self-incrimination. (The writers are David Guion and Michael Handelman.) "This is so painful," remarks Steve Carell, a genuine talent trapped in the ghastly role of an IRS employee who is both the film's resident stooge and - inevitably - also its reigning conscience. Not long afterward, the UK's own Lucy Punch gets into the act, playing a sex-mad stalker whose admonitions of embarrassment ring all too true. (The British presence here offers a cautionary tale to those performers wanting to survive the West Coast with anything resembling grace.)

But as the film's second long hour grinds its cynical, entirely gerrymandered way through to the predictably sentimental and "life-enhancing" finale, one is all too aware that the script's actual affinities lie with the clitoris jokes and "zebra vagina" remarks threaded through a movie that has no time whatsoever for women - and not a whole lot more for men. A single verb sums up this remake of the 1998 French film, Le Diner de Cons (itself based on a play), and it rhymes with "schmucks".

Carell plays Barry, a toothsome taxidermist - on the dental front, he looks vaguely like Mark Rylance in the Broadway-bound revival of La Bête - who is tending to a dead mouse when he gets hit by a sports car driven by Paul Rudd's career-obsessed Tim, a financial whiz who has taken the firing of a colleague as an opportunity for self-advancement. Tim is busy texting a lie when he slams into Barry: less "meet cute" than "meet crunch", which in an instant solves Tim's most immediate problem.

Charmingly, it seems that in order to rise up within the private equity firm for which he works, Tim must deliver on an invitation from his boss (a cold-eyed Bruce Greenwood) to attend a "dinner for winners" with one of life's losers in tow. And who better to fill that bill than the ever-grinning if socially challenged Barry, the sort of guy who when told in no uncertain terms not to leave a chair simply takes the chair with him.

Complications arise in the form of Tim's girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), a gallery employee who may or may not be getting it on with the swarthy, self-absorbed artist, Kieran (played by New Zealander Jemaine Clement, from Flight of the Conchords, in a part made to order for Russell Brand). A puffy-cheeked David Walliams pops up as a heavily accented Swiss (!) squillionaire in one of those casting gambits that is funny for several seconds and then not at all, which is at least better than Zach Galifianakis, who plays Barry's weirdo boss, Therman, with a laugh like a strangulated cat.

Like the forthcoming, scarcely more preferable Going the Distance, Dinner for Schmucks wants to be high-minded and morally unimpeachable while in fact revelling in its own baseness and stupidity. To that end, we get an utterly arbitrary riff on gonorrhoea and the witless antics of Punch's rampaging psycho followed by the protracted "dinner" of the title, which includes one guest who communes with the lobster on her plate and a mind-vs-brain control duel that stops an already faltering scenario stone cold. The frolics cease long enough to allow Barry a sententious "Yes I can"/ "dare to dream" spiel that makes it sound as if he is going to run for president. For a minute, I thought Dinner for Schmucks might be a veiled political parable - Barry = Barack? - but decided that, most probably, it is not.

The few admirable moments include a genuinely winning opening credit sequence that would seem to portend an entirely different film, and Carell does intriguingly resemble the rodents on which he is so keen. Otherwise, Rudd looks sheepish and uncomfortable in ways that extend well beyond Tim's treatment of his beloved Julie, as you might, too, given this script. "There is no me in mean," we're instructed at one point. Uh, the last time I did spell check, yes there was.

Watch Dinner for Schmucks trailer

The movie's actual affinities lie with the clitoris jokes and the like that are threaded along its cynical, gerrymandered way

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