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[whitespace] 'Dinner Game' Dupe à L'Orange: Yuppie Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte, right ) plans to make the unwitting François (Jacques Villeret) the entertainment at his dinner party.

A Parisian yuppie eats crow in 'The Dinner Game'

By Don Hines

WRITER/DIRECTOR Francis Veber's French farces are lightweight trifles flown to Hollywood. where they're remade into unpalatable hardtack. Veber's original films (La Cage aux Folles numbers among them) provided the plots for My Father the Hero, The Man With One Red Shoe, The Toy and other substandard fare. The Dinner Game is a cut above. In the film's cruel title game, a handful of wealthy Parisians invite strangers they deem "complete idiots" to dine with then and to unwittingly entertain them. Yes, the plot is simple, but it translates easily from French into English, or whatever language they speak in Hollywood these days. This comedy of errors is more a showcase for comic actors than a display of labyrinthian plotting.

An elegant publisher named Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte), looking like a Gallic Alec Baldwin, hears that the boorish François Pignon (Jacques Villeret), an assessor at the state tax board, builds Eiffel Towers and other edifices out of matchsticks, with a seriousness befitting the architect of the cathedral at Chartres. Pierre decides that this chump is perfect for his dinner party. But Pierre wrenches his back, leaving him stranded alone with François at the publisher's lavish apartment. François tries to help in any way, and he wrecks Pierre's life in every way, particularly when he confuses the identities of Pierre's estranged wife and his mistress. François then invites his friend the tax inspector (Francis Huster) over to help discover if Pierre's wife has taken a lover. The apartment is filled with undeclared artwork hastily hidden.

Huster is surprisingly flinty as the relentless inspector, and in fact all the lead actors hit the mark. Villeret has a watery pair of eyes usually seen on the face of a beagle; we can see why Pierre forgives his foul-ups and allows him to make good and, well, foul up again. François' earnestness is matched only by his ineptitude. The remake will probably bring Danny DeVito to the role, who has Villeret's coarseness and wiry Brillo-pad hair, but not his ability to evoke pity.

In the thankless role of put-upon reptilian yuppie, Lhermitte is haughty enough to deserve what he gets, but charming enough to seem human, if not likable.

Pierre isn't the only one stuck in his apartment--most of the film occurs there, but the actors' skill distracts us from the stagebound setting. Most of the gags seem as familiar as oft-repeated pranks at family gatherings. Yet Veber stages the movie with an élan rarely seen in Hollywood comedies or sitcoms. The Dinner Game's pairing of a schlemiel and a sophisticate resembles an unselfconscious TV-movie version of My Dinner With André.

The Dinner Game (PG-13; 82 min.), written and directed by Francis Veber, photographed by Luciano Tovoli and starring Jacques Villeret, Thierry Lhermitte and Francis Huster, opens Friday in Los Gatos at the Los Gatos Cinema.

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From the August 12-18, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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