It's been a banner year for remakes of European comedies - Death At A Funeral turned out surprisingly well, and now we've got Jay Roach's re-creation of a French flick originally titled Le diner de cons but Yiddished up for the American market as Dinner For Schmucks.
The basic premise of the film is a comedian's wet dream - a group of businessmen have a monthly dinner where they challenge each other to find the weirdest, most awkward dinner guest they can bring. Paul Rudd plays the straight man, who doesn't seem particularly comfortable with the evening, and Steve Carell shines as his schmuck, a hilariously dweeby IRS employee who makes bizarre taxidermy mouse dioramas as a hobby. The two have great chemistry - Rudd is developing into a genuinely likeable leading man, and what's fun about the movie is that even though the dinner is an act of cruelty towards the guests, you sort of hate the guests as well. It's a comedy of cheap shots, but they fly in both directions.
And, of course, there's the cast, which is absolutely stellar. Zach Galifinakis as a cuckolding boss? Kristen Schaal as a demented ex-girlfriend? Jemaine Clement as a hairy BS artist? This movie contained a good deal of improvisation, and it shows, as these talented actors are given free rein to flesh out these absolutely absurd characters and smash them up against each other. I'd expect the DVD release to be chock full of unbelievably funny deleted scenes.
It's no secret that I've found Steve Carell's big-screen roles to be uneven - for every 40 Year Old Virgin, there's an Evan Almighty, and he often seems content to coast along on his awkward Michael Scott-isms. It's great to say that in Dinner For Schmucks, he's stepped up his game a number of notches. Barry is a deftly sketched character (ably assisted by the spectacular taxidermy displays created by SFX legends the Chiodo Brothers) and his improvisations are terrific. Even the presence of the otherwise execrable Jeff Dunham can't sink this movie. Go see it.