In order to impress his girlfriend, Tim (Paul Rudd) needs to secure a promotion. So he decides to accept his bosses challenge; bring an 'idiot' to their annual 'Dinner for Winners'. A competition run by white-collar executives and disguised as a celebration of brilliance in unrecognised individuals. In reality, the meal is simply an opportunity for elitist senior-management types to laugh at some quirky and eccentric members of society. Tim's girlfriend tries to convince him the whole idea is abhorrent. Just as he is beginning to agree with her, he meets Barry (Steve Carell). An IRS worker, with a passion for creating art from taxidermied mice, Barry might just be the perfect man to help Tim win the competition.
The US version of The Office has shown us that Carell can do awkward better than most and Anchorman proved his capabilities of making stupidity funny. However, his character here is completely unlikeable and, more often than not, irritating. His bowl haircut, glasses and protruding teeth, evoke bad seventies sitcoms. A time when this look would have been a stylists shorthand for 'socially inept'. Paul Rudd, on the other hand, is given little opportunity to make us laugh, playing two-dimensional straight man, Tim. Director Jay Roach's previous franchises (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents/Fockers) may not have been the greatest comedies of the past fifteen years, but delivered as and when expected. The problems with Dinner for Schmucks lie in the pacing and the writing. With a 114 minute runtime, it is simply too long. Entire characters and subplots are superfluous. It also suffers badly from second-act-drag, believing that given enough on-screen time we will somehow empathise with our two leads.
Producer Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Bruno), seems to have called in a number of favours from celebrity friends and cast them in every available role. The idea, presumably, is that good performances can boost a weak script into something amusing. Of Course, this is not the case. Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) as avant-garde artiste, Kieran, makes the most of his characters nonsequiturs but only manages to raise a smirk at best. The same cannot be said for David Walliams (Little Britain), whose Swiss, aristocratic character, Mueller, is completely redundant in every way. The only worthy gag in almost two-hours is provided by Chris O' Dowd (The I.T. Crowd) as a blind swordsman. However having only a handful of lines and appearing twenty minutes before the credits roll, its far too little, far too late.
Dinner for Schmucks starts with a premise full of comedic opportunities, but spends the next hour and a half ignoring these. The original, a French film from 1998 entitled The Dinner Game, was a social satire focusing on the ridiculous measures the aristocracy will go to amuse themselves. It was full of witty dialogue and, at 80 minutes long, it worked. As often happens, Hollywood seems to have missed the point and delivered a broad and bland remake.