Dinner for Schmucks
Game cast brings the funny to this comic remake
Maybe I'm just a sucker for taxidermy, but Dinner for Schmucks had me at the opening credits. A giant hand—well, a normal human-sized hand—irons a teeny tiny shirt. The camera gradually pans out to reveal an impressive tableau: a vast diorama of scenes enacted by meticulously dressed stuffed mice. Some picnic or sunbathe (complete with little mouse tanlines). One romantic pair paddles a boat made of Swiss cheese.
Though scant to no credit is given, Dinner for Schmucks is an adaptation of a 1998 French movie called Le Dīner de Cons. In both movies, the plot centers on a mean-spirited form of entertainment in which a group of smug sophisticates compete to invite the biggest idiot to dinner. The American version is flashier, with less of the subtle wit of the original. In the French version, much of the action takes place in one apartment; the main characters never make it to the dinner in question. Schmucks, in contrast, culminates in an explosive dinner party scene peopled by a circus of colorful "idiots," ranging from a blind fencer to a vulture trainer. The principal idiot in the French original has a passion for building replicas of monuments such as the Eiffel Tower out of matchsticks. In the new version, Barry Speck (Steve Carell) builds, you guessed it, mouse dioramas, including a series of "Mousterpieces" depicting great works of art such as "The Last Supper" and the "Mona Lisa."
When ambitious businessman Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) meets Barry by way of hitting him with his car, he is delighted by his luck. Tim's promotion rests on the quality of idiot he brings to the boss's dinner. But over the course of the movie, Barry—the putz with a heart of gold—shows his arrogant new friend how to be decent. Along the way he also brings Tim's psycho ex-lover back to torment him, ruins a lucrative business deal, and gets him audited.
It would be disappointing if this movie weren't side-splitting, given the cast. Carell's malleable mug gets most of the laughs, though much of the dialogue is funny. Zach Galifianakis, who plays Barry's controlling boss Therman Murch, is great too. He takes himself very seriously, though the turtleneck under his corduroy jacket turns out to be a dickey and the powers of mind control he is so proud of only appear to work on the diffident Barry. Jemaine Clement, one half of HBO's Flight of the Conchords, is the other stand out. He is pitch perfect as Kieran Vollard, a virile artist who threatens to steal Tim's girlfriend from him. Kieran likes dressing up as various animals, and has sex as "part of his process." He is painfully funny, whether he is Pan, stalking uber-seriously through a herd of goats or at his gallery opening, discussing the joys of having his arm up a zebra's vagina.
Dinner for Schmucks isn't likely to become quite the comedy classic its predecessor is, but it's very funny on its own terms. Plus this may be your only chance to see a taxidermied mouse Jesus.