Populist screenwriter Francis Veber (La Cage Aux Folles) may be France’s longtime king of odd-couple farce, but the broad humor of his films rarely translates to Hollywood (see—or, rather, don’t see—Father’s Day, Pure Luck and The Man with One Red Shoe). In the only sporadically entertaining Dinner for Schmucks, director Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers) takes on Veber’s mean-spirited 1998 comedy The Dinner Game, about Parisian publishing pals who invite eccentric idiots to a meal before mockingly awarding the most “exceptional” guest. Outside of the specifically Gallic brand of condescending intellectualism, the Americanized version reconfigures the plot as both a hazing ritual for corporate-ladder-climbers and a lazy hook to hang cheap jokes on.
Private equity analyst Tim Conrad (Rudd) makes the right play at a staff meeting and is given the preliminary nod to a bump upstairs. First, though, he must attend the titular mansion party thrown by his boss. Briefly hesitating when his almost-fiance Julie (Szostak) chastises him in moral disapproval, Tim motors ahead—and nearly runs over oblivious IRS drone Barry (Carell). The perfect companion for such a cruel soiree, Barry is a self-delusional, literal-minded simpleton whose innocent intentions become burdensome by the fact that he can’t take a hint. Once Tim is shackled to this deep-down lovable caricature, the mismatched buddy shtick with a tender resolution is on autopilot. The cast is effortlessly wittier than the sitcom-grade material they’re supplied with, especially supporting funnymen Zach Galifianakis, David Walliams and Jemaine Clement, the last as an insatiable, self-important art star who might be equal parts Julian Schnabel and Russell Brand.—Aaron Hillis
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