Monday, November 8, 2010

Dinner for Schmucks -- humiliation of a Hollywood remake

Director: Jay Roach, 2010. (PG-13)

If sequels are usually worse than the first movie, how do remakes fare? If this film is an example of a remake, not very well! Having just seen the 1998 French original (The Dinner Game) upon which this is based, I was in a great position to make the comparison.

This Hollywood is not only 50% longer it is at least 50% duller. The plot line copies the original. But where its predecessor focused on the pre-dinner interactions between the professional and his idiot, not showing the actual dinner at all, this one climaxes at the dinner for schmucks and there shows the heart of the shmuck. Along with this, Roach develops some threads that could have been left undeveloped.

Like The Dinner Game the film centers on a group of high flying professionals whose monthly dinner parties are simply opportunities to invite schmucks, idiots who have "fascinating hobbies" that they can talk about for hours. Boring to most, they are mocked and made fun of at the dinners, though they have little idea of what is going on.

As the film opens, Tim (Paul Rudd) is watching as one of his peers is fired. Looking down on him, literally, Tim is ready to grab the now empty desk and seize his career opportunity. This opening scene epitomizes the core of the film: looking down on others and using them as stepping stones to further one's own increase.

When Tim moves up in his job and pitches a proposal to his company's CEO, he is seen as opportunistic and duly invited to this dinner for schmucks. But he must find his schmuck. Further, his fiancee, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), is opposed to this idea of ritual humiliation. What is Tim to do? He makes his choice -- career.

But he has to find an idiot. And he runs into one, literally. Barry (Steve Carrell, Date Night) is a tax auditor who collects dead mice, stuffs them, and then creates artistic friezes from them. Wow. Could it get better than this! Of course, complications ensue, including back spasms, orgiastic art, and kinky stalking ex-lovers.

My review of The Dinner Game focused on the issues related to mocking others for fun, and how this is a form of judging, which we are commanded not to do (Matt. 7:1), as well as on the real heart of the idiot which reveals that the schmuck-hosters are really the schmucks, though they cannot see this. The same could be said for this film.

Yet, Dinner for Schmucks highlights one additional topic: career climbing. Tim is clearly doing much of his antics for the sole purpose of improving his career. There is an underlying reason for this, but he is willing to sacrifice his integrity for this goal. Stepping over others and into offices that are not cooled from their previous occupants, he is anxious for the call to the upper floors and the upper echelons. Do we resonate with this? Are we so focused on the next promotion that we would damage our character and destroy others? The apostle Paul gave sage advice to his young disciple Titus: "In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity" (Tit. 2:7). Once our integrity is tarnished it takes a lot of work over a long period of time to regain the sheen and the trust. Sometimes it never returns. It is just not worth it. The cost is too high.  

Ultimately, this version has too much potty humor and sexual references that are not that funny nor necessary to the plot. Shorter and cleaner can be better. So, don't be a schmuck. Choose the French original over this Hollywood remake and you'll be happier.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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