DVD Release Date:  January 4, 2011
Theatrical Release Date:  July 30, 2010

Rating:  PG-13 (for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  110 min.
Director:  Jay Roach
Actors:  Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Bruce Greenwood, Stephanie Szostak, Lucy Punch, Ron Livingston

NBC recently confirmed that, after a long run, Steve Carell is officially leaving The Office, the sitcom on which he plays clueless boss Michael Scott. Maybe he's grown tired of the role—or maybe the movies are beckoning.

Carell, who broke out of supporting roles in 2005 with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, survived Evan Almighty and Dan in Real Life, and has hit his stride this year with Date NightDespicable Me and now Dinner for Schmucks. This latest film, a remake of the French farce The Dinner Game, expands on the original in many ways that improve the story, but it adds a heavy dose of sexual content that prevents the film from being easily recommendable.

Tim (Paul Rudd), an aspiring executive at a finance firm, has devised a scheme to land the account of a deep-pocketed art lover (David Walliams). Tim sees a ticket to the top of the company hierarchy if he can bring in the big fish. Trouble is, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) doesn't want to use an unproven junior-level employee like Tim to woo the new client.

Sensing that Tim has drive and passion, the boss gives him a chance to show what he's made of by attending a "dinner for idiots." The game involves bringing an unsuspecting idiot to a dinner so that others can laugh at their expense. The person who brings the biggest idiot receives a prize—in Tim's case, the long sought-after promotion.

His girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), doesn't approve of the plan, and neither does Tim at first. But when he meets IRS employee Barry (Carell), he can't help himself. Barry's specialty is taxidermy with an unusual twist: He assembles dioramas featuring stuffed, dead mice dressed in small outfits, and he couldn't be prouder of his creations. With Barry at his side, Tim smells dinner-party victory, and with it professional advancement, even though his commitment to following through endangers his relationship with Julie.

The relationship between Tim and Barry is central to Dinner for Schmucks, but a variety of supporting performances pushes the envelope in the area of sexuality in the film. A performance artist (Jemaine Clement) who works with Julie stands waiting to take Tim's place in her life, and he's quite open with Tim about a potential romantic relationship with Julie. Meanwhile, Barry worsens the damage for Tim by inadvertently inviting Darla (Lucy Punch), a deranged former flame of Tim's, back into his life. Her aggressive sexual suggestiveness and desperate, do-anything overtures to get Tim's attention are more outrageous than humorous, testing the limits of what audiences will be comfortable with in Dinner for Schmucks. Zack Galifianakis (The Hangover) plays Barry's boss, the man who stole Barry's wife and who can control Barry through a form of mind control that only he and Barry seem to understand.

Those mind games are among several bizarre, funny episodes that occur during the climactic dinner event, which wasn't included in The Dinner Game. The unwitting contestants at the dinner include a blind swordsman, a woman who communicates with dead animals, and a strange ventriloquist. Until the dinner scene, the film's humor is mostly gentle and rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but the dinner displays of eccentricity take Dinner for Schmucks to a higher level.

Another departure in the American version is its protagonist, Tim, who is much more sympathetic than his counterpart in the French version. Writers David Guion and Michael Handelman give Tim a chance to recognize his flaws and change his ways. This makes for a sweeter experience in terms of the two main characters and gives the film a redemptive element. However, the sexual jokes and stalker subplot push limits that the original didn't approach.

Those who want to avoid the coarse aspects of Dinner for Schmucks should track down a copy of The Dinner Game instead. It's the safer option, although that film doesn't include the dinner sequence of the American version, which includes moments that are funnier than anything in the original.

Both versions show the cost of pride and the grace of humility, which we learn about throughout Scripture (Psalms 138:5, Proverbs 18:12, Romans 12:6). But Dinner for Schmucks adds some disturbing material that hurts, rather than helps the film. It's a meal that might leave you satisfied in some ways, but a little queasy in others.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain numerous times; jokes made about words that sound like the "f" word, and later, the actual "f" word is used; a mouse dressed up as Jesus and posed as part of a Last Supper scene; Jesus is said to have written the Bible, and other jokes about Jesus reflect the characters' ignorance; references to sex organs; an online stalker asks, "Are you touching yourself?"; other verbal references to sex and to being sexually aroused; Barry is humiliated when he doesn't understand his wife's expression of sexual need.

  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Scenes of drinking; wine bottles are thrown and smashed.

  • Sex/Nudity:  Image of a penis; a picture of a woman in underwear, seen from behind, is used as visual identification to determine a woman's identity; a woman is said to be "wild in the sack"; a naked woman is briefly seen in profile; a man and two women are naked except for coverings over their nether regions; a comment that monogamy isn't natural in the animal kingdom; a stalker threatens to force herself on Barry; she removes her top and asks to be spanked; kissing and caressing; a mouse diorama shows a man entering a bedroom and discovering his wife with another man; discussion of gonorrhea; cleavage; discussion of post-coital behavior; a man refers to one of his fingers as his wife's favorite.

  • Violence/Crime:  A stalker pursues Tim; wine bottles are hurled at individuals; a blind fencer lashes out with his sword; an encouragement to "kick him in the business"; a finger is sliced off.