Notes from the back row 

Schmucks the best of what’s new this week

The past two weeks have been stellar at the Village 8 with Chris Nolan's mind-bending dream-heist Inception and Angelina's ass-kickery-laced Salt (which could have been called Run Angelina Run ). This week Hollywood goes after your funny bone with Dinner For Schmucks a remake of a 1998 French flick Le Diner de Cons.

The Americanized Dinner for Schmucks lacks much of the biting social commentary of the original (which basically equates rich people with an unflushed dump in a public washroom) but this softer version is still pretty funny thanks mainly to the casting.

Paul Rudd stars as a really nice guy working his way up the corporate ladder who ends up having to attend this dinner where all the bigwigs each invite one idiot (or mentally disabled person) and then everyone makes fun of them while enjoying a meal. (Incidentally I'm quite sure I've seen the real life version of this when I worked as a waiter during previous years' Crankworx festivals.)

Steve Carell plays Rudd's "schmuck" and for the most part this is a standard odd couple scenario where Carell's idiot stalks Rudd and basically ruins his life before everyone realizes that making fun of people is wrong and the idiot is never really as idiotic as you thought he was.

Director Jay Roach ( Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) doesn't put a lot of personal style on the screen and at 114 minutes Schmucks is way too long but Rudd and Carell are two of the best comedians going these days and they bring a good improv feel to things. The strong supporting cast includes Zach "The Hangover" Galifianakis and Bruce Greenwood, although the women's roles are undeveloped and unfunny - Hollywood remains an old boys' club.

The old boys are slipping though, as proven by Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore wherein talking CGI dogs and cats fly around in jetpacks and paragliders and rehash (but never expand on) all the old spy action clichés while spouting gems of dialogue like, "I'm getting too old for this poop." And so am I. Piss on this shit.

The last flick opening this week is Charlie St Cloud , a sappy-ass film drenched in sunsets and Zac Efron's piercing gaze. Efron stars as a going-somewhere small-town sailor who gives up on his future when a drunk driver kills his little brother. Oh yeah, and he can see dead people. Poor Zac works in the cemetery and plays catch with his dead brother every night until a girl comes along and Charlie has to choose to follow his brotherly promise or his loins. In the end, you guessed it, he follows his heart and we get 109 minutes of teenage melodrama that, thankfully, is not about vampires.

To be fair, Efron and the girl (Amanda Crew, a B.C. girl best known for that garbage Whistler show a few years back) pull off some convincing scenes together but the God-has-a-plan schmaltz gets old pretty fast. (If God has a plan it means the little bro was destined to die, a throwaway life, which means God is also a bit of an asshole isn't he?)

Efron is a good actor but he deserves better material and needs to step out of the teeny-bopper heartstring genre if he ever wants to be taken seriously.

The DVD of the week is The Wackness because it takes place in the summer of 1994 and is about slangin' bags, roaming aimlessly, falling in love and growing up with a hip hop soundtrack that represents the golden years of the genre. Plus it stars Sir Ben Kingsley in a role most knighted actors would have turned down. Giv'r, Ben.



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