It’s a question of farce vs. formula, a really old school comedy prototype against tailoring a property to the current humor couture. In 1998, celebrated French filmmaker Francis Veber reinvented the fabled Parisian pantomime with Le diner de cons, otherwise known as Dinner for Idiots or The Dinner Game. In it, he offered asshole publisher Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) taking advantage of his latest moronic find - a Ministry of Finance agent named François Pignon (Jacques Villeret) who builds famous facades out of matchsticks. Needing him for a weekly get together of his fellow smug businessmen, he thinks he’s landed a gem. When his bad back goes out, and Pignon begins meddling in his complicated marital affairs, Brochant realizes he’s in way over his head - and may not survive this madcap evening.
Now, 12 years later, Hollywood has stepped in and turned a likeable single room burlesque (complete with complicated misunderstandings and rampant mistaken identities) into a starring vehicle for current comedy aces Paul Rudd, Zack Galifianakis, and Steve Carell. Entitled Dinner for Schmucks and expanding the storyline significantly, director Jay Roach has parlayed his Meet the Parents/Austin Powers bankability into a gig giving life to this wholly unusual idea. Instead of staying within the traditional tenets of the original, the filmmaker follows his own unique muse, allowing Carell to simply walk away with the movie - and it’s a damn good thing that he does. While the overall effect is superior to the rather somber French offering, it’s also indicative of how far Hollywood feels it has to go for a laugh.