The rhythm of their verbal dance allows us to dissolve in waves of welcome laughter.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

The Dinner Game is a French farce so artful that the fun of it may just carry movielovers through the usual barren summer. This movie is a triumph of comic timing, a revolving-door farce where each sudden twist builds on the one before it. In French, with subtitles, nothing is lost in translation. While a French friend says the film is even funnier in its native language, it's hard to believe it could be any funnier than it is here with English subtitles. The humor explodes in marvelous bursts from a plot that has been crafted with intricacy and precision.

A group of eight rich Parisian businessmen hosts an annual dinner--"The Idiots' Dinner"--where each man brings as his guest an "idiot" who doesn't know why he has been invited. The sponsor of the biggest idiot wins. Under consideration for this year's dinner, among others: a connoisseur of boomerangs, and a master matchstick modelist, each of them controlled by his idiosyncratic passion. In case you are already put off by the premise, be assured that over this good-hearted movie hangs a metaphorical promise that justice will be done.

By the end of the opening credits, we have met the candidates, and the rules of the game are clear. We can barely wait for this dinner. But first, the movie interrupts itself as one of the hosts, publisher Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte), suffering from a pulled back muscle, asks his candidate for a lift to the dinner. Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret), model builder, arrives, and the movie soars.

Seeing the physical distress of his host, Francois sets out to apply his own special brand of logic to Pierre's problems, which now include not only his back, but also his marriage. Christine Brochant (Alexandra Vandernoot) has stomped out of the apartment because of her disgust for "that vicious dinner."

When Francois settles in to handle the dilemma by phone, Pierre's life disintegrates. The pattern is clear: Francois, who loves the challenge of solving Pierre's troubles, has for each problem a solution that he is clearly unable to implement without creating more chaos.

Suddenly Francois is directing the lives of Pierre's wife, his former lover, a rival, and the tax collector by telephone in a luxury apartment he has never seen before. He tries valiantly to handle the phone calls as instructed by Pierre, but during each one, his own logic and sincere helpfulness kick in at the crucial moment, distracting him hilariously from the purpose at hand.

The supporting players are uniformly fine, but no one can take the spotlight from the central duet. Writer-director Francis Veber (The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe and La Cage Aux Folles) has drawn perfectly timed thrusts and parries from Messieurs Lhermitte and Villeret. The sophisticated Monsieur Lhermitte, who might have been just a straight man, is instead a master of the subtle response. Monsieur Villeret is anything but subtle, but he is sublime. The rhythm of their verbal dance allows us to dissolve in waves of welcome laughter.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Lions Gate Films
Rating : NR
Running time :1h22m

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