DVD: Dinner for Schmucks and a Brief, Sad History of US Remakes of French Comedies
Lest you think this is going to be one of those knee-jerk articles that assumes that the subtitled version is always better, let me begin by granting that Dinner for Schmucks (on DVD this week from Universal Home Video) actually improves upon its source material, Le dîner des cons -- by opening up the story and making it feel less stage-bound -- without being particularly good itself. But the disappointment of Schmucks is par for the course when Americans decide to remake French comedies.
For the rare times that this formula works -- Joel Schumacher, of all people, gave us Cousins, which is nearly as charming and hilarious as Cousin, Cousine -- the result tends to resemble a Kraft individually-wrapped slice of brie. It's mostly the fault of Three Men and a Baby; while few people remember that bachelors-inherit-an-infant farce with much affection, the Leonard Nimoy (!)-directed remake of 3 hommes et un couffin was 1987's top box-office attraction, and it opened the floodgates for more Yank retreads of Gallic farces.
And what a comedy death march this was -- first, there were remakes of movies that had actually become hits in this country, back when people were still willing to read subtitles (The Man with One Red Shoe from The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe, Pure Luck from La chèvre, Father's Day from Les compères), and then Disney actually started blocking the American distribution of French films they'd acquired, so that no one could compare, say, Three Fugitives to its antecedent.
Perhaps the current box-office flopitude of The Tourist -- a remake of the French thriller Anthony Zimmer -- will cool Hollywood's ardor for these pale copies. But until American studios let le cinéma Français well enough alone, just say non.