The greatest crime committed by DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS, and there are many, is that it might prevent the viewers who have suffered through it to never discover the original, Francis Vebers delicious LE DINER DE CONS, on which it was based. An original of which the re-makers have completely missed the point. Of course, Americanizing a French flick is not in and of itself a death knell for a project. Flattening, sanitizing, and generally smoothing out the edginess in favor of product that is safe, dull, and lifeless is. Veber creates small, character-driven gems, economical of time, clever of concept, and fiercely wicked in dispatching those who deserve it. DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS takes the dynamic of a truly evil but suave and successful man played for a fool by the inept disaster of a good-hearted loser and tosses it aside, and with it, the whole point of the exercise. Only Steve Carrell as the loveable loser retains what made the original so funny, and even he is undone by an uninspired script that resorts to bland clichés.
The innate evil of the successful member of the duo has been tempered into Tim (Paul Rudd), a good guy whose dreams of a promotion at the financial firm where he works depend on finding an interesting loser to bring to his bosss monthly dinner for idiots. The boss (Bruce Greenwood), a minor character, can be irredeemably evil, as can all the other members of the firm who would like to see Tim fail. Torn between wanting the promotion and staying in the good graces of his disapproving art-gallery owning girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), he opts for the promotion in order to impress her and finally convince her to marry him.
His search for the perfect idiot turns out to be easier than he thought when he literally runs into Barry (Carrell), a dimwit with a placid, buck-toothed smile and the amazing ability to misunderstand any situation and/or conversation in which he finds himself. When he reveals that he spends his time making tableaux from the dead mice he collects, Tim is convinced he has a lock on the top idiot.
One does not have to have seen the original to find profound disappointment in the remake. While Carrell has the proper childlike innocence and poignant delight in finding what the thinks is a friend in Tim, Tim has too much of a conscience to make their interaction the sharp, sophisticated comedy necessary to carry the action. For all Tims frustration, there is never the killer instinct that would have made Barrys devotion and sweetness all the more funny as he unwittingly yet systematically dismantles every aspect of Tims life. Taking place over two days, instead of the originals single afternoon, it seems contrived and sloppy, relying on too many convenient coincidences rather than the poetic justice of Tims own actions.
Its also cluttered with more characters than the originals two, few of any real interest or depth to justify their inclusion. Julie is beautiful and stylish with nothing else offered to recommend her. Tims oversexed stalker, played broadly and boorishly by Lucy Punch is nobodys foil, Tims co-workers at the firm (Ron Livingston, Larry Wilmore) are interchangeable Gordon Gecko wannabees, and Barrys own boss, played by the usually reliable Zack Galifianacis, is stuffy and self-delusionally dumb, grunting and staring without ever quite being funny about it. Only Jermaine Clement as the narcissistic and goat-obsessed artist that Julies gallery is handling, and Kristen Schaal as Tims pushy secretary find the necessary eccentricity to battle heroically with the lack of imagination with which their characters are built. When the film actually stumbles into a genuinely funny moment, as when Barry explains why his wife left him, the writers fail to make it the bright quip that it should have been, and drag it out until what worked has been beaten to an unrecognizable pulp.
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS is not lively enough to be a farce, not clever enough to be a satire, and not funny enough to be a comedy. It is plenty sad, though, and not in the way that its timid makers had hoped it to be with moments of revelation and redemption that have been recycled from countless other films. What is left is a mess made all the more irksome for how it besmirches the original.