CARNAGE—-director Roman Polanski isn’t known for comedy, having done just three; the 1967 cult spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers, the bloated 1986 fiasco Pirates and this 2011 bonbon with an acid center.
Mercifully short at 80 minutes, it’s lifted from a precocious (self-satisified?) play by Yasmina Reza entitled Le Dieu de Carnage/The God of Carnage. The authoress (who won a Tony for the play) wrote the screenplay as well, with assist from Polanski. Setbound and claustrophobic, it’s both wickedly funny and irritatingly smug as two well-off New York City couples argue over a playground incident involving their sons. Well, they start arguing about that, and proceed to fight about everything but oxygen. Haul out the Scotch—nothing calms bickering better than getting plastered.
The short running time still seems too long, but credit four fine actors for putting their all into the spite (and barfing): Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz. Foster looks like she’s ready to self-combust. Critics were divided, audiences seem to either be tickled pink or turned off. It invites you to be complicit in mockery, so its pose as a ‘comedy for Smart People’ rests on resentment and pretense as much as razor insight. An artistic draw, but not at the box-office: in that wheat v .chaff zone it rubbed a raw $27,500,000 against a cost of$25,000,000, guaranteeing nobody in studio accounting cubicles laughed on their end.