Dinner for Schmucks

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There is strong chemistry between Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in the comedy "Dinner for Schmucks," a loose remake of Francis Weber's French farce "Le Diner de Cons" ("The Dinner Game")
This is the third teaming of Carell and Rudd, two of our most charming, appealing and cool comedians, after appearing together in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Anchorman." But this time around, the gifted actors, who usually play secondary parts, get to be center-stage and play the leads.
The film, which world premiered at Montreal's Laughs Film Festival, will be released by Paramount on July 30.  It's a relief to report that "Dinner for Schmucks" is neither a gross-out comedy (as has become the norm for American comedies of the past decade), nor an off-shoot or imitation of the Judd Apatow's type of laffer, in which both thesps had appeared.
Gallic Francis Veber is one of the few foreign filmmakers whose pictures have lended themselves to commercially successful American adaptations, including "Pure Luck," "Three Fugitives," "The Man With One Red Shoe," "The Birdcage," and "Father's Day." 
Probably for commercial considerations, director Roach and his scribes have softened considerably the French tale, which was nastier and more biting in dissecting morals and manners of the French intelligentsia; ultimately, this "Dinner for Schmuck" is not particularly offensive to any segment of the audience.
In the French picture, a rich businessman throws a dinner party, in which an aggregate of bizarre and eccentric guests compete for the dubious prize, the "biggest idiot" around.  The American version, scripted by David Guion and Michael Handelman, differs substantially from the French in drawing strongly on the Odd Couple shtick. Like the source, "Dinner for Schmucks" remains a character-based comedy, but it also features the titular dinner, which was never seen in the French film. 
More importantly, as noted, the American movie changes the narrative focus by exploiting the Odd-Couple format, centering on the relationship between a young striver named Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) and one such "idiot," Barry Speck (Carell).
The two men meet accidentally at a dinner party thrown by big boss Fender (Bruce Greenwood).  Following conventions of the screwball comedy, their encounter proves fatal and fateful, when Speck begins to stalk Conrad, refusing to let him go. In the process, Speck wreaks havoc on his professional and private life. Speck uses (and abuses) every possible way to latch onto Conrad, at one point even faking death.
A good portion of the narrative takes place over the course of one evening, which goes uproariously and disastrously awry. The French farce was largely set indoors, confined to one set, but the American picture finds ways to occasionally get outdoors, which enliven the proceedings.
Is Speck an "idiot savant" or just "crazy"? One of Speck's hobbies is to create dioramas out of stuffed mice wearing tiny costumes.  Initially, Speck's peers feel sorry for him, and find his tricks pathetic. Of course, we expect the tables to turn, and the characters to change personas.  The idiot, after all, is not as idiotic as he is initially perceived.
Women may complain: There is no room for femmes in this kind of picture. Indeed, the relationship between Conrad and his fiancée Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is underdeveloped and uninvolving, sort of a necessity in order not to appease the female viewers.
As a tale of a friend-stalker, "Dinner for Schmucks" relies on some of the same humor (and gimmicks) that we have witnessed in "What About Bob?" in 1991, in which phobic patient Bill Murray pursues the pompous Richard Dreyfuss, or the Jim Carrey's darker and funnier vehicle, "The Cable Guy."  In all of these pictures, a detached, pretentious, soulless professional is being harassed by a needy and disturbed person, who, in the process manages to change his life radically.
Drawing on the leads' screen personas, the film is well cast. With his soft, good looks and pleasant demeanor, Paul Rudd plays well the "straight" man.  Steve Carell again excels as the loner-loser, the hapless-innocent schmuck who "stumbles" into a humiliation scheme and then turns it around.
The supporting cast is equally impressive, with "Little Britain" vet David Walliams, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, and others, each getting at least one weird, often very funny scene.

Director Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents" and its sequel, "Austin Powers") continues to direct in an impersonal style that services the material at hand, but no more.  At times, it feels as though portions of the dialogue have been improvised on the set, which is a good thing in this case.
For a light, rather thin comedy in terms of ideas and situations, "Dinner for Schmucks" is far too long, and a trimming of 15 to 20 minutes (especially in the second half) would have benefited the picture.
 Barry – Steve Carell
 Tim – Paul Rudd
 Therman – Zach Galifianakis
 Kieran – Jemaine Clement
 Julie – Stephanie Szostak
 Darla – Lucy Punch
 Lance Fender – Bruce Greenwood
 Mueller – David Walliams
A Paramount release presented with DreamWorks and Spyglass Entertainment of a   Parkes/MacDonald, Everyman Pictures production in association with Reliance Big Entertainment.
Produced by Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Jay Roach.
Executive producers, Francis Veber, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Sayres, Jon Poll, Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber.
Directed by Jay Roach.
Screenplay, David Guion, Michael Handelman, inspired by the film "Le Diner de cons" ("The Dinner Game") directed, written by Francis Veber.
Camera, Jim Denault.
Editors, Alan Baumgarten, Jon Poll.
Music, Theodore Shapiro.
Production designer, Michael Corenblith; supervising art director, Chistopher Burian-Mohr; art director, Lauren Polizzi; set decorator, Susan Benjamin.
Costume designer, Mary Vogt.
Sound, Ken McLaughlin; supervising sound editor, Michael O'Farrell; re-recording mixers, Andy Koyama, Chris Carpenter.
Stunt coordinator, Tom Harper.
Special effects coordinator, R. Bruce Steinheimer; special effects supervisor, Scott Garcia.
Visual effects supervisor, David D. Johnson; visual effects, Pacific Vision.
Associate producer/assistant director, Josh King.
Casting, Nicole Abellera.
MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 114 Minutes.