Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks- Another Witless Remake That Misses the Intent of the Original by Using Over the Top and Unsubtle Comedy

There’s nothing like making fun of the socially repressed and intellectually naïve vicariously through Hollywood films. If there is any chance that a film can feature a character that is not only considered idiotic, but also shamelessly unhinged in their idiocy, Hollywood will jump at the opportunity. What makes this common feature so interestingly backwards with the progressives is that any film that features such a character will likely try to show that they have heart and that they were fine the way they were. So stupid is as stupid does, and while we make fun of them we also try to sympathize with their condition making it always a strange and awkward transition. But what do you do when your entire film is created around the unethical badgering of multiple perceived idiots, while also lavishly embracing the same exact action you intend to eventually show was wrong? Well Jay Roach, the overrated acclaimed director of Meet the Parents, brings his new film Dinner for Schmucks to the screen that features a wide variety of comedians in a comedy that isn’t very funny. In fact, the scenarios are so predictable and outrageous that it’s difficult to stay centered in this out of control and witlessly unfunny film. Most of the cast helps keep the film grounded as to not completely fall flat, but the truth is Dinner for Schmucks provides a hell of a framework as to what good comedy is clearly not. Unsubtle joke development, characters not even close to a distinguishable reality, and paradoxically making fun of the very subject you try to give an understanding to sticks out like a soar thumb (or a disembodied finger) in Jay Roach’s comedy of idiots that really could have been written by one.

The unfortunate reality in Dinner for Schmucks’ case is that it is in fact another bad remake of a French film, Le Diner de Cons, one that had infinitely more subtlety and wit than the usual garbage remake treatment that Hollywood gives its films. Basically the plots are identical, where in Dinner for Schmucks a group of corporate elitists have a dinner gathering once a month where they invite the biggest idiot they can find in order to make fun of them. It’s easy to write one dimensional characters with no moral complexity and just sheer exaggerated stupidity, but that isn’t the obviously simplistic side of Dinner for Schmucks. The corporate elitists are also complete clichés based solely on their apathetic view of simpletons and focused on only getting the big account for their financial firm. This is slightly different in Le Diner de Cons because even the protagonist has this negative view giving him a little more layers to dissect as a character. It’s pretty easy to make a group look poorly when they spend their time looking down on others, but the unfortunate fact is that if you laugh in the slightest at this shallow comedy you are in essence just as bad as the people Paul Rudd’s protagonist ends up shunning in the end. The comedy isn’t tactfully done with wit, highlighting everyday people’s ability to be jackasses or impressed with their own useless skills, but instead just has a bunch of characters that are eccentric and socially repressed. Jay Roach proves that pure outrageous behavior and men who still act like children can perhaps not always be so funny.

Why do Hollywood comedies seem determined to be as blatant as possible with their intended jokes, character traits, and utilize over the top scenarios? Even Mel Brooks’s comedies that weren’t exactly as subtle as his British counterparts knew the comedic genius of keeping things understated so as to deliver wittier comedy. Dinner for Schmucks intends to just treat its audience just like the simpletons in the film with over stated, outrageous, and tactless comedy. There’s nothing clever about the writing nor is there anything unique about the gross out and ridiculous humor that is rampant throughout. In fact, the comedy gets too outrageous, and not in a gross out way, but where the humor is based on moments that reality has no familiarity with to keep the film at least balanced. Paul Rudd does an alright job attempting to be the normal, even if he is struggling ethically, but Carell’s ability to be purely shameless does a lot to put the comedy on the track of an insignificant film. Mostly the comedic structure just passes you by in a forgettable and even chaotic way so as to never allow any poor script line or messy improvisation stay with you after the film is done. Comedy is about enjoyment but it certainly isn’t about watching vicariously as others have a good time.

The cast in Dinner for Schmucks is filled with a vast number of well known comedians and character actors that it’s difficult to understand why this film ended up being so poor. Paul Rudd is charming as usual and really tries to be that every man this outrageous comedy needs in order to keep it grounded. However, his counterpart Carell is so witlessly stupid that it’s hard to imagine that Rudd’s reactions are based at all in reality. Instead it comes off too scripted, while at the same time trying to allow these comedians, such as Jermaine Clement from “Flight of the Conchords” fame and stand up ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, to improvise and fluidly work off each other. But it just doesn’t seem to work, or work as well as say other improvisational comedies successfully utilize their actors such as This is Spinal Tap!, Waiting for Guffman, or even A Mighty Wind. Those other films had a structure where their characters could improvise but with restrictions to their character and situation, but in Dinner for Schmucks the characters are so unhinged in their absurdity that it’s difficult to keep everything controlled and witty. The more outrageous the scenarios get the more the characters never seem real, and that is a detrimental factor to Jay Roach’s witless remake.

If you’re going to remake a film, especially one that was successful in delivery and humorous intention, then you need to remain true to the tone of that previous film while changing perhaps the scenarios. But Roach doesn’t just change the characters and places but also the intent of his comedy, which misses the entire point of what the original film Le Diner de Cons tried to balance: intelligence versus morality. Here the character of Rudd does have a moral struggle, but really it stems from him losing his girlfriend to his selfish decisions rather than realizing that his own pretentiousness keeps him from realizing the good in others. Dinner for Schmucks is just another summer comedy that deals with the ridiculous and never attempts to treat its audience with a perceived intelligence that they could possibly understand subtlety and wit. There’s an idiocy on two levels that goes beyond the weird, socially repressed characters on the screen, and that is with the script writing that is simple and indiscreet and with the way the filmmakers treat their audience with very little respect. This is entertainment on the most basic of levels and it doesn’t even allow you to try and use your brain to understand the jokes since the punch lines are given to you with a slap in the face.

Grade: D

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