Paramount Pictures | 2010 | 114 mins. | PG-13

1998’s Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game), a French film by Francis Veber, is a delight of farce and absurdity, choosing brevity for its levity, it delivers the premise while never succumbing to unnecessary distractions or padding the story for comedic complexity. Dinner for Schmucks, directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), and listed as being inspired by the French original, seemed to have little concern for brevity, letting Schmucks run a good half-hour too long. (Its French counterpart has a tidy runtime of 80 minutes.)

Dinner for SchmucksDinner for Schmucks centers on Tim (Paul Rudd), an analyst at a private equity firm desperate to climb the ladder in his dog-eat-dog business. His boss (Bruce Greenwood) hints at a promotion but suggests it hinges on something the bigwigs do once a month: they host a dinner party where everyone is supposed to bring the biggest idiot they can find so the elitists can mock them. If Tim shows up with the most hilarious, dimwit, Tim gets the promotion and a really sweet office. At first, Tim says no to the dinner; he has a really important scheduled with his fiancee Julie (Stephanie Szostak). Then he meets Barry (Steve Carell), a man whose hobby is populating enormous dollhouses and model landscapes with elaborately costumed dead mice. He looks like a sure winner.

However, before they can get to the dinner, Barry inadvertently ruins every aspect of Tim’s life. Barry starts following Tim around everywhere, ends up at Tim’s house and gradually begins to ruin his life with the kind of buffoonery that only happens in movies. Throughout, the script asks us to care about Tim’s relationship with his girlfriend and introduces characters which have nothing at all to do with the Schmuck dinner that serves as the film’s big finale. Occasionally we’re rewarded for sticking with all this tedious plodding. When Jemaine Clement shows up as an out of his mind artist bent on stealing Tim’s girlfriend, he steals every scene he appears in.

While Dinner for Schmucks isn’t nearly as funny as it could be, one message comes across: in the end, the joke is on the dinner planners. You cant insult people like Barry, because they are happy being just the way they are.

Carell and Rudd have worked together in the past, so they have a good sense of timing. And director Jay Roach knows his way around a sight gag. The biggest issues with the film come in the form of the uneven screenplay by by David Guion and Michael Handelman, whose other credit was the similarly uneven “The Ex.”  While some will enjoy Dinner for Schmucks, one cant help but feel it should have been better.

Framed at 1.78:1 with an AVC encoded image, Dinner for Schmucks looks very good at 1080P. From the opening sequence, which explores an impressive mouse-populated diorama full of lush greens, soft blues, and warm yellows, the brightness is apparent. Detail is very good, with textures represented clearly, skin-tones natural, and an appropriate amount of film grain to warrant praise for discretion with DNR. The location for the dinner is filled with deep and rich colors, hardwoods, stained-glass art, and room adornments that each command attention.

Paramount and Dreamworks Pictures deliver Dinner with Schmucks with a solid English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track. Theodore Shapiro’s score is pronounced most of the time throughout the audio dimensions providing cues for when we are to find things funny and silly; dialogue is clean in the center channel, the occasional crash and smash of furniture and other items gives some opportunity for directional effect and some thumping of the subwoofer, and all are delivered with the requisite level of precision and clarity.

We get the following special features:

The Biggest Schmucks in the World includes a lot of talking head interviews with the cast and crew discussing their thoughts on the film, how fun it was to make, etc.

The Men Behind the Mousterpieces looks at the Chiodo brothers (who also made the cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space and produced effects for Team America) who produced the mouse dioramas for the film.

Meet the Winners is a quick look at the various ‘winners’ (or losers in the film) at the dinner party and most of the actors do that in character.

Finally there are some Schmuck Ups (which is just a fancy way for saying “outtakes”), a few deleted scenes and a featurette called “The Decision with Paul and Steve” that has Carell and Rudd doing a funny bit on ESPN.

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