**1/2 stars 82 minutes | Rated: PG-13
In French with English subtitles
Opened: Friday, August 13, 1999
Directed by Francis Veber

Starring Thierry Lhermitte, Jacques Villeret, Francis Hustler, Daniel Frevost, Alexandra Vandernoot & Catherine Frot

Interview with Francis Veber
Largely unfunny 'Dinner Game' never makes to pay-off scene promised in the title

By Rob Blackwelder

Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I just don't find Francis Veber's brand of French farce all that funny. "La Cage aux Folles"? Feh. "Le Jouet"? Nice try. "Les Comperes"? Whatever.

But then again, I think the American remakes of these movies -- "The Birdcage," "The Toy" and "Father's Day," respectively -- are considerably worse.

"The Dinner Game" seems to be more of the same. The writer-director's new effort is about a club of Parisian yuppie socialites who gather monthly for a dinner at which they compete to see who can bring the biggest idiot.

The concept isn't a bad one, but the picture never follows through. With that ripe set-up, all Veber delivers is set piece about a newly recruited snob (Thierry Lhermitte), invited at the last minute, who is desperately seeking a presentable dimwit for the dinner.

Most of the comedy comes as this fellow's karma catches up with him the night before the bash. His wife leaves, he hurts his back, and the only person showing him sympathy is his chosen victim (Jacques Villeret) -- a nervous, loquacious, rolly-polly accountant, obsessed with making match stick models of famous monuments -- who has ineptly come to his aid and proceeds to make matters worse on nearly every front.

While the mean-spirited sitcom isn't entirely unpalatable, many of its laughs fall flat due to the movie's poker-faced tone.

As a foreign film, "The Dinner Game" may feel unusual or exotic in some way, but in fact Francis Veber is the most Hollywood of French filmmakers, cranking out one lowest-common-denominator comedy after another, most of them immediately picked up for American remakes without much of an effort to improve upon them. His other middling Hollywood redueax include "Quick Change," "Three Fugitives" and "The Man With One Red Shoes," and DreamWorks has purchased this one as another Robin Williams vehicle.

Veber is no auteur, and "The Dinner Game" hasn't any more substance or humor than his other fare.


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