Dinner for Schmucks

Review by: Ryan Oliver

I’ve complained a lot about this summer being one of the most boring ones on record in the history of cinema. Aside from Inception and Toy Story 3 there’s nothing to boast about. What’s really a buzz kill is the lack of laughs at the multiplex. By this time last year we had The Hangover, Funny People, and Bruno to keep us in stitches. Aside from Get Him to the Greek, what do we have? Grown Ups!? Pa-lease.

Needless to say, I wanted to see a movie that was good for some big laughs. I went into Dinner for Schmucks as optimistically as I possibly could. I had just watched Cyrus – the Duplass Brothers’ critical darling – the day before, and even it didn’t live up to the praise it’s getting down in Indiewood. I thought to myself “this is going to be it. Schmucks is going to be the comedy of the summer.” Unfortunately, I got another bag of bad news for all of you out there: it’s not.

The film is based around a simple premise: Tim (Paul Rudd) is an up-and-coming businessman who is invited to a dinner by his boss (Bruce Greenwood) where these suits bring an idiot to dinner and make fun of them (the cover title being the “Dinner for Winners”). The person who appears to be the biggest idiot wins a trophy. Tim decides that he’s not going to go to the dinner, that it is until he runs into Barry (Steve Carell), an IRS auditor and amateur taxidermist whose hobby is stuffing dead mice for his collages he calls “Mouse-terpieces.” Tim ultimately decides that Barry is too big a schmuck to pass up for the dinner.

The whole moral of the movie is predictable from the get go. The idea is that the big-shot guys are bad, and that these people are not idiots for doing what they want to do, even if it is out of the norm. A lot of people were dissatisfied with the mixed message about how we’re not supposed to laugh at these “schmucks” but the movie sets it up so that we’re invited to. That’s not what dissatisfies me, I can live with that. What disappoints me is that the film is not as funny as you would think. The film runs for almost two hours long, which the story time takes place within two days, so the pace really drags. The script also keeps throwing too many flatlining plotlines and characters that add absolutely nothing to the film. We have a crazy old flame of Tim’s (Lucy Punch) that turns out to be more awkward than funny, we have a commitment issue story between Tim and his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) that isn’t developed in full, and we have a grudge between Barry and his boss (The Hangover’s Zach Gilifianakis) over Barry’s ex-wife that is thrown in merely to add both conflict and some laughs, but it’s completely forced and the story ends up more tragic than funny.

The only character that is both completely out of left field but hysterical at the same time is Julie’s boss Kieran – played by Flight of the Concord’s Jemaine Clement – an artist who explores artistically as much as he does sexually (including some weird animal fetishes). I love Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, but Carell is only funny in spurts and often goes way over the top and Rudd has nothing going for him in this one. When the film finally gets to the dinner, you hope that all this huffing and puffing is going to add up to something, but it doesn’t really do that either. The dinner is amusing – and actually hysterical when Barry shows off his collages – but not nearly as funny as a whole. Aside from the script squeezing too much in for a tight fit, I think part of the problem is that director Jay Roach – no stranger to brilliant comic farces (The Austin Powers series, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers) – makes his actors stick to the script instead of making way for improvising. I think that if Roach would have said to Carell and Rudd “The camera’s rolling, just go” just as Shawn Levy did with Carell and Tina Fey in Date Night, we would be better for it. Instead, we have a group of talented comic actors under a good comic director straining to squeeze laughs out of a script that frankly isn’t that funny. I got sucked in by a funny trailer and a great cast only to be let down. Looks like I’m the real schmuck.

Directed by Jay Roach
Written by David Guion and Michael Handelman; based on the film “Le Diner de Cons”

Stars Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Bruce Greenwood

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language
** (out of four)

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