Every Wednesday night, frosty Parisian snob Pierre Brochant (Lhermitte) and his happy-go-cynical friends each drag a guest goon to their weekly dinner party - - bringer of the best dunce wins a prize. But when Brochant invites this week's mock fodder to his home for a literal dummy run, his personal life is topsy-turvyed as jinx-magnet François Pignon (Jacques Villeret) reveals himself to be the undisputed King Of Klutzes.
It's a peach of a premise, but minus a swift scene leering at a myopic bore blahing about his boomerang collection, we never get to sit in on the idiot's dinner. Instead, Brochant's apartment becomes the claustrophobic base for Pignon's pile-up of farcical screw-ups.
In adapting his stage play, Francis Veber makes few cinematic concessions (it's all static cameras and reaction-shot close-ups), but to witness unassuming set-up crash into excruciating pay-off is to watch a comedy master at work.
Wrenching every last cringe, cackle and snort from his script, Veber's tour-de-farce is every bit as intricate and impeccably timed as any Fawlty Towers episode. And, while the rest of the cast are game, Villeret has created a buffoon of classic tragi-comic proportions; a bloodhound-faced loser every bit as amiable and oafish as Homer Simpson.
Of course, some of the gags are lost in translation and the targets are familiarly Gallic (the lofty bourgeoisie, thick Belgian accents and so on), but this is still genuinely funny, bust-a-gut stuff.
Go see before the upcoming Dream-Works' remake yanks out all the jokes.