Chewing the scenery

August 27, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"The Dinner Game" is a farce. Oh boy, is it a farce. And depending on your taste -- or tolerance -- for farce, filmgoers will find it either the perfect dish or difficult to swallow.

Webster defines a farce as "an exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous, highly unlikely situations." But writer-director Francis Veber actually based "The Dinner Game" on a true story he heard about a group of cruel Parisians who staged a series of dinners in which they vied to bring the most boring guest.

The rest of "The Dinner Game," however, fits nicely with Webster's definition, especially the improbable events that unspool when Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) invites a low-level government functionary named Pignon (Jacques Villeret) to dinner as his accompanying idiot. Brochant's friends have invited losers who collect ladles and boomerangs, but the snobby publisher is confident he has a winner. Who can compete with someone who rhapsodizes, ad nauseam, about the replicas of national monuments he builds out of matchsticks?

Brochant's plan goes awry when he pulls his back out before the dinner party. Worse still, Pignon shows up and proceeds to help his host by chasing his wife away, inviting his mistress over, chasing his wife away again, chasing the mistress away, and inviting a colleague to perform a tax audit on his host. Ah, Paris.

Villeret recalls Zero Mostel with his portly silhouette and bulging eyes and, like Mostel, he invites utter sympathy even at his most obnoxious. But even with the leading man's sweet demeanor in its favor, "The Dinner Game" eventually loses its momentum and begins to grate. Unless, of course, you like your comedy exaggerated, your humor broad and your situations highly unlikely. If so, "The Dinner Game" should leave you well sated.

`The Dinner Game'

Starring Thierry Lhermitte, Jacques Villeret

Directed by Francis Veber

Rated PG-13 (language)

Running time: 82 minutes

Released by Lions Gate Films

Sun score: **

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