Dinner for Schmucks boasts a cast of established comic actors (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Walliams, Jemaine Clement) and is loosely based on, or "inspired by", as the director Jay Roach puts it, Francis Veber's successful and critically acclaimed Le Diner des Cons. Yet despite this pedigree, it really isn't very good. Tim (Rudd) is an ambitious executive intent on reaching the top of the corporate ladder. When his boss invites him to a dinner attended by the company bigwigs, he is understandably delighted - until he learns of the unpleasant premise behind the monthly event, that is. Each diner is required to bring an idiot along with them, purely for the sadistic enjoyment of the others, and whoever brings the most eccentric or obscure individual is crowned the "winner". Tim initially declines on moral grounds, but when he quite literally bumps into Barry (Carell), a tax inspector with a passion for taxidermy, he starts to change his mind. By the time he has finished leafing through Barry's portfolio of "mousterpieces" (dead mice starring in various historical dioramas), his morals have been well and truly sacrificed and an invitation to dinner is extended Barry's way. The ending is predictable from the outset; Tim eventually realises the error of his ways and forms an unlikely alliance with Barry, while the smarmy execs are exposed as the real prize idiots. The question is, how does the film go about reaching this conclusion? The answer is, not very well. As soon as Barry arrives on the scene, chaos ensues. He wreaks havoc on Tim's personal and professional life, convinces his girlfriend that he is having an affair and nearly ruins a business brunch with an important Swiss client (Walliams). This scene - which sees Tim being forced to propose to a woman who has stalked him for the past three years - is one of the high points in a comedy that is rather light on laughs. Carell's Barry is intended to be seen as a sweet-natured, lonely buffoon. In truth, he is rather too zany and off the wall to elicit audience sympathy. And yet, at points he does, simply because the filmmakers seem intent on rather meanly making fun of anyone who doesn't conform to social norms. This makes for uncomfortable viewing. Dinner for Schmucks careers from one scene to the next, the comic set pieces feel strung together rather than seamless and as the action descends into farce, the film oversteps the mark and becomes, on occasion, all together tasteless and pretty cringe-worthy. Yes, this is supposed to be a screwball comedy but on this occasion it is taken too far. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but there are also dire ones. Veber's original was a far smarter, darker and tighter offering and Roach would've done well to stick closer to it.
* Emily Shardlow