Who's In It: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Lucy Punch, Bruce Greenwood, David Walliams, Ron Livingston
The Basics: Paul Rudd is a striving executive, finally promoted to an important position in his company. It's then that the boss invites him to a secret monthly dinner game in which each person has to bring a social misfit. The target is encouraged to behave as ridiculously as possible for the mocking amusement of the rest of the guests and the person who brings the biggest idiot is the winner. Nice guy Rudd resists, but when he encounters lonely, naive mouse taxidermy enthusiast Steve Carell, he knows he's found his dining companion. Then you have to wait forever before the actual dinner--the scenes that dominate the trailer--comes to pass. In other words, all that Zach Galifianakis you Hangover fans were excited to see mostly amounts to a small chunk of the last act.
What's The Deal: Not counting the few sequences that Galifianakis plows through and steals away from everyone, this is Carell's movie from start to finish. It feels like he read the script once, realized how unfunny it was going to be and decided to just do what he wanted instead, which is also what it felt like happened with Date Night. He'll make you laugh from beginning to end, saving you from feeling like you wasted your money and time--the hero of the movie.
This Is Paul Rudd's Dan In Real Life: I'm not sure why this has to happen to funny actors but almost invariably, as their careers ascend, they wind up in movies where they play the hapless guy to whom funny stuff happens. The actor himself doesn't get to be funny; instead he's meant to come off as the beleaguered victim of crazy circumstance. The movie suffers by stifling the actor's natural comic ability and no one comes away from it fully satisfied. So why bother casting a guy like Rudd? Cast Bradley Cooper instead. He's not funny at all.
Bile, The Missing French Ingredient: The original French film Le diner de cons (The Dinner Game) is a humanist farce with a despicable lead character and a payoff of genuine punishment. In other words it has the balls to be as mean and awful as it has to be to make its point about the nature of cruelty. But this ain't France and to be unlikable in a good-natured American comedy is the only real crime in this country. So they twist the script into new shapes to let Rudd's character off the hook at every turn and Carell's socially awkward nerd isn't presented as annoying and weird, just wounded, innocent and eccentric. So what I'm really trying to say is that if you are a studio marketing person or a dumb test audience member whose kneejerk reaction is to be repelled by unlikable characters, congratulations on ruining all movies. I hate you.
Why "Schmucks?"Not once does anyone in this movie use the word "schmuck." They say "idiot" over and over but they never say "schmuck," which must mean that the word "idiot" doesn't test well either. If it did then the French version--Le diner de cons literally translates as "Dinner for Idiots"--would have made it over to the U.S. with that name instead of The Dinner Game.