Dinner for Schmucks, Jay Roach, 113 mins, (12A)<br/>The Switch, Josh Gordon and Will Speck, 101 mins, (12A)

Roach takes a sledgehammer to crack some harmless nuts
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The Independent Culture

Making fun of the disadvantaged is a fool's game.

Lars von Trier came a cropper when he mocked physically handicapped people in The Idiots; the claim that it was a satire whose characters were the ones being crass, not their director, fell on deaf ears.

One film that pulled off the challenge was Francis Veber's Le dîner de cons, a French comedy that had a fair handle on the nuances of its diabolical scenario. But as its title attests, the American remake Dinner for Schmucks certainly does not.

A group of Los Angeles financiers hold regular dinner parties to which they each bring one guest, an "idiot" whose specific purpose is to be made fun of. Decent but ambitious company man Tim (Paul Rudd) is about to refuse his invitation when he meets Barry (Steve Carell), a man who combines unquestionable idiocy with a strange hobby – constructing tableaux with stuffed mice. Barry is too perfect to ignore. But before the pair even get to dinner, Barry calls at Tim's flat and, through ineptitude and faux pas, begins to tear his world apart.

Both movies are founded on the understanding that while the intended victim is, indeed, a buffoon, his party hosts are even more idiotic, for feeling the need to humiliate others. But whereas Veber handled that balance adroitly, Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) employs a typically American sledgehammer – turning the moral of the story into a speech and making excruciating embarrassment of the so-called comedy.

It is grossly over-acted, chiefly by Carell, but also by British comedians David Walliams and Lucy Punch, he a cartoon Swiss billionaire, she a stalker, both quickly in need of a new project.

When they're not trapped in genre or stealing from European movies, Hollywood producers have a decent nose for the zeitgeist. Apparently the rate of single mothers in America has been rising sharply. I wonder if this could be why we're presented with the second romantic comedy in a month that's driven by children's need for a nuclear family.

First it was The Rebound, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as a divorced mother of two, who falls for her male babysitter. The Switch, based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, involves an even more outlandish situation.

Jennifer Aniston plays Kassie, a single career woman keen to have a child, who decides to find a sperm donor. Jason Bateman is Wally, Kassie's best friend, who is convinced it's a very bad idea; though his disapproval doesn't explain why, during the "insemination party", Wally switches the donated material for his own. The consequences are played out seven years later, when Kassie returns to New York with her son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), who shares a certain adult's very particular tics.

Like The Rebound, this hardly merits being called a romcom, the chief interest being the relationship not between lovers but between father-figure and child – and here it is exceedingly sweet. The film is funny, largely due to the presence of bug-eyed genius Jeff Goldblum, but not a bit romantic. And Aniston, whose romcom credentials are effectively selling the film, is its least interesting aspect.

Next Week:

Demetrios has a date with Tamara Drewe, Stephen Frears's adaptation of Posy Simmonds's graphic novel

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