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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Dinner for Schmucks

January 2nd, 2011

Dinner for Schmucks - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

In 1998, The Dinner Game came out in France. It was about a group of prominent businessmen who held weekly dinners where they would compete to see who could find the biggest loser. When it was announced that it would be remade, there was some trepidation, as some thought the filmmakers wouldn't be able to replicate the level of satire displayed in the original. That said, since the original was barely seen here, I'm more concerned about whether or not Dinner for Schmucks can stand on its own, but comparisons will be inevitable. So how well does it stack up?

The Movie

Tim Conrad works at one of the lower levels of his giant corporation, but when one of the higher ups is fired, he sees it as his chance at advancement. He impresses his boss at a meeting, but there's one more test. He has to participate at the boss's "Dinner for Winners". Every executive has to find the biggest loser they can find, bring him to the special dinner, and at the end of the evening, the boss awards a prize to the champion.

That night he tells his girlfriend, Julie, about this dinner and she's horrified, telling him he mustn't go. And he agrees, knowing it's not worth it. However, the next day he runs into Barry, literally, with his car. I immediately love Barry, because he can pronounce Porsche correctly. In nearly every other way, he is a schmuck. He is such a schmuck that Tim figures winning the dinner, and the promotion, are a lock. Selling out your principles is a lot more palatable when a corner office is involved.

Surviving till the dinner could prove a problem, as Barry has a nearly supernatural gift at destroying everything he encounters.

Of course, the details of that are spoilers, as are his competition at the dinner, so we will stop the synopsis there. However, I will start the review by giving a spoiler about the original film. In that film, the idiot, Fran├žois Pignon (played by Jacques Villeret), manages to destroy the life of Pierre Brochant (played by Thierry Lhermitte), the prominent businessman in question. So far the two films are quite alike, but, in the end of the original, there's a less than happy ending and after nearly saving the day, Fran├žois manages to destroy Pierre's relationship. Of course, in that movie, he deserved it.

You just know that the Hollywood remake is going to soften the film, especially that ending. It reminds me of another remake, Last Holiday, which took a classic and softened the ending, turning it from biting satire into a merely okay. Here, Paul Rudd's character isn't an ass that deserves to have his life ruined. He's a guy who is looking for a promotion, who doesn't want to be part of the dinner, but can't say no to his boss. You know he's going to have his moment of redemption, because that's what the film was building to all along. This predictability does hurt the movie, but there are more than enough talented people in the cast to carry the film. There are more than enough funny scenes to make up for the softening of the satire.

The end result is good, but not great. Given the cast, I was expecting great.

The Extras

I only have the Blu-ray to review, but none of the extras appear to be high definition exclusives. These extras start with a 15-minute making of featurette, which is the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. The Men Behind the Mouseterpieces is a 12-minute featurette on the three brothers that made the mouse miniatures seen in the movie. They also worked on Critters, which is a film I loved when I first saw it. (It's been more than 20 years, so I don't know if it has aged well.) Schmucks Ups are 8-minutes of outtakes, which involves a lot of improve that didn't quote work out, and six deleted scenes with a total running time of 9 minutes. Finally, there are two comedy bits that are more unique. Meet the Winners is a 4-minute bit with the secondary schmucks talking about themselves in character, while The Decision is a spoof on the LeBron James TV special from last year. I would have liked an audio commentary track, but this is acceptable.

The film does look good in high definition with sharp details, strong colors, deep blacks, etc. There were a few scenes where the details were great, such as the details in the dioramas. On the other hand, the film is not a visual feast. Likewise, the audio track delivers clear dialogue, but the surround sound speakers are mostly underused. The Blu-ray costs 30% more than the DVD, which is on par with expectations.

The Verdict

Good, but not great. That describes Dinner for Schmucks, the selection of extras, the high definition presentation, and the price of the Blu-ray over the DVD. You at least have to give credit for consistency. I can recommend checking it out, but I can't be overly enthusiastic in that recommendation.

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