The supposed idiots we see in Dinner for Schmucks
are deemed so by corporate big-wigs who invite them to a
lavish top-secret dinner, just to make fun of them. Real
nice. It becomes quite obvious to anyone who’s seen
a movie or two (especially in the dumb schlub genre) that
the real schmucks will eventually be revealed. Plenty of
laughs come from the two leads here, but there’s also
a good amount of funny from a solid supporting cast (and
some dead mice) that almost steals the show from them in
this hilariously stupid yet somewhat uneven comedy.
The film follows Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd), an exasperated
corporate executive looking to make that proverbial lateral
move as he searches for some type of career significance.
He finds his escape from cubicle gloom when a colleague
who had the coveted ”seventh floor ” office
is it! He must have this job no matter what (little does
he know….) since he feels it will make life easier
for him and his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), who
is busy running an L.A. art gallery. With the support of
his fellow office lackey, Susana (Kristen Schaal, Trixie
from Toy Story 3), Tim sets out to make a bold
move at the next big meeting. Anything to get out of the
office matrix and into a posh desk with a door and a window
where he can elbow the ribs of the top brass.
Tim pitches an original idea amongst glaring corporate snobs
named Davenport (P. J. Byrne) and Caldwell (Ron Livingston)
and much to his surprise, the top boss, Lance Fender (Bruce
Greenwood) actually hears him. Intrigued not only by Tim’s
courage but also his gumption, Fender calls him in for a
informs Tim the impression he has made and that in order
to ensure his place among their elite inner circle, he has
to come to an exclusive, members-only dinner on Saturday.
Sounds easy enough, maybe too easy. The catch is Tim has
to bring a guest, not just anybody but the dimmest bulb
he can find….for all to ridicule. These guests think
they’ve been invited because they’re extraordinary;
instead, they’re entrée getting roasted.
The fact that this doesn’t go over well with Julie
and that Tim knows the whole thing is just wrong should
be an indication of how things are going to start unraveling
for him. He should really just listen to that little voice
in his head, stand his ground and back out of this dinner.
He even tells Julie he will, that is until he runs (literally)
into Barry Speck (Steve Carell) by accident which initially
proves to be disastrous and eventually proves to be quite
sobering. Sure enough, like pulling that lone dangling thread
off your favorite sweater, anything that Tim once held dear
is quickly in a pile of disarray.
It doesn’t take long for Tim to find out that while
he did indeed find a dim bulb in Barry, he also found a
sweet, unassuming whirlwind of disaster capable of screwing
up any moment in time. Barry gets along just fine on his
own as an amateur taxidermist by night, working for the
IRS by day, but interacting with others is entirely exhausting
and hilarious to behold.
Tim, meeting Barry is serendipitous. He sees Barry as the
perfect candidate for Fender’s collection of morons
and once he showcases Barry in all his blind earnestness,
well, he’s sure to be the winner of the dinner. Plenty
catastrophes befall Tim’s world after meeting Barry
yet as he gets to know his Saturday night date, the more
he begins to regret accepting his dinner invite.
Dinner for Schmucks is both a remake and a reunion
for its two leads who were previously together in, The
40 Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman: The Legend of
Ron Burgundy, hilarious films each. Director Jay Roach
(the Austin Powers and the Meet the Parents
movies) has Americanized the 1999 French film, Le Dîner
de Cons, or The Dinner Game, itself a black
comedy based on a play. More broad than black and sweet
than mean-spirited, this remake may not be as hilarious
as those other films but there’s a certain charm amid
the absurdity of it all.
To be expected, Rudd and Carell are fantastic together,
working off each other effortlessly. But this is Carell’s
movie all the way. He is a dead-on comic standout at every
turn while Rudd phones in his usual well-meaning guy.
hoping to see something different from Rudd; instead he
eases nicely into the role, trying to advance in both romance
and career, while being kind of a douche along the way.
On the flipside, Carell fully commits to a role that needs
such convincing devotion in order to succeed.
Watching him portray Barry is a delight but it also reminded
me that this character isn’t far removed from people
we know. Removed from society norms, Barry is the guy who
continuously tries to help but the more he helps, the more
he makes matters worse. It’s hard to get too mad at
guys like this when they really have no clue what they’re
doing but that doesn’t make them any less annoying,
or targets for ridicule.
As mentioned above, the two entertaining leads are surrounded
by ample talent. Some may wear out their welcome as others
deliver relentless comic chops but nevertheless they all
contribute to a fun comic ride. It’s no surprise that
Zach Galifianakis is a comic dynamo as Barry’s boss
and rival, Therman Murch, but his mind-controlling powers
are a riotous trip.
there’s Darla (Lucy Punch), the nutjob stalker that
Barry cluelessly brings back into Tim’s life. Just
like all these characters complicate Tim’s life, Darla
royally screws up a lunch meeting he has with a Swiss businessman
(David Walliams) in one of many uncomfortably awkward scenes.
comic standout is kinky performance artist Kieran (Jemaine
Clement, from The Flight of the Conchords), a character
who provokes laughs at first with such straight delivery
but in the end resembles a low-rent Russell Brand.
Surrounded by these characters, Tim has no chance trying
to make things right with Julie, let alone figure out what
to do about the dinner. I didn’t even know what to
do about the dinner. It felt way too staged for laughs to
me and since it was toward the end, I found myself hungry
for dessert. One annoying blind dinner guest (I could swear
he was played by Jason Segel and if he was, shame on him)
came across as a grating sitcom reject. It was almost enough
to make me lose my comic appetite.
As proved by his past work, Roach knows comedy but he could
have pushed this one to the devilish edge instead of telling
us to feel good for these morons. The sympathy Roach wants
from us could have come more naturally instead we’re
taken on an uneven albeit gleeful ride of laughs and alarm.
all this, he does compose what will potentially be one of
the most adorable starts and finishes of any film so far
this year. Roach delivers a very funny movie in which it
is easy to find yourself laughing consistently throughout
yet he tends to insert a bit too much saccharine as we make
our way to a disappointing dinner.
review also appears on David's own website,
Keeping It Reel.)