Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis,
Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Lucy Punch, Ron Livingston,
Andrea Savage, Bruce Greenwood, David Walliams, Kristen Schaal,
RunTime: 1 hr 54 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: NC-16 (Sexual References)
Official Website: http://www.dinnerforschmucks.com/
Opening Day: 7 October 2010
comedy “Dinner for Schmucks” tells the story of
Tim (Paul Rudd), an up-and-coming executive who has just received
his first invitation to the "dinner for idiots,"
a monthly event hosted by his boss that promises bragging
rights (and maybe more) to the exec that shows up with the
biggest buffoon. Tim's fiancée, Julie, finds it distasteful
and Tim agrees to skip the dinner, until he bumps into Barry
(Steve Carell) – an IRS employee who devotes his spare
time to building elaborate taxidermy mouse dioramas –
and quickly realizes he's struck idiot gold. Tim can't resist,
and invites Barry, whose blundering good intentions soon sends
Tim's life into a frenzied downward spiral and a series of
comic misadventures, threatening a major business deal, bringing
crazy stalker ex-girlfriend, Darla, back into Tim's life and
driving Julie (or so Tim thinks) into the arms of another
Imagine if one day your company CEO told you this- come to a dinner game at my house, bring an idiot (a ‘schmuck’ if you like it) and if your idiot is the biggest one of them all in the room, you’ll get a promotion and your idiot will get a trophy. Best part about it? Your idiot won’t even know he’s been made use of. Pretty simple ain’t it? Here’s the tough question- would you actually do it? Would you ridicule another just so you can get ahead of the competition? At what and whose expense are you willing to promote yourself?
That’s the dilemma investment analyst Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) faces. He wants up- literally- so when a colleague is sacked, he jumps at the opportunity to impress his boss (Bruce Greenwood) but first he has to pass the dinner test. Based on the French farce “The Dinner Game” by Francis Veber, this American reimagining gives Tim far more conscience than the French did with his counterpart in the original. And because he’s played with such genial likeability by Paul Rudd, your sympathy goes out to him- even when he’s actually exploiting his target, an IRS employee and amateur taxidermist Barry (Steve Carell).
Their fortuitous meeting takes place on a busy street when Tim’s Porsche knocks over Barry retrieving a dead mouse on the road. When Barry offers to pay for the damages, he knows he’s struck gold. The comic mishaps begin that very night, as Barry visits Tim just when his art-dealer girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) walks out of his apartment in a huff after a quarrel. In Tim’s words, Barry turns out to be a ‘tornado of destruction’- a debilitated back, a dreaded reunion with a stalker with nymphomaniac tendencies and more misunderstandings with Julie the trail that Barry eventually leaves behind.
Thank goodness for Steve Carell, his spot-on comic timing assuaging the grating aspects of his buck-tooth, bespectacled foolish sap character. Indeed, while this may be a comedy, it is also quite possibly one of the most frustrating comedies to watch. His knack- though unintentional- of messing up everything in Tim’s life within just two days is suitably annoying and rather surprising in fact, when you consider that a movie like this would want your sympathy to lie with Barry, and not Tim.
It does eventually, as Barry’s passion in fashioning intricate mice dioramas (the beautifully designed mouse puppets made by the team responsible for that in Team America: World Police) turns out to be his way of expressing his wounded feelings from an unsuccessful past marriage. Still screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman don’t make that journey an easy one, and it’s quite likely that some viewers may simply be too turned off by Barry’s exasperating behaviour to summon enough empathy for him during the last act.
That last act is the dinner itself, an obvious addition from the French original. Staging the dinner means bringing together a bunch of eccentrics with their own unique queer habits- while the intention is hilarity, the fact that they are there for no better reason than to be laughed at hints at a mean-spiritedness that the affirming redemptive speech at the end can’t quite salvage. Director Jay Roach, whose specialty is broad comedy the likes of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, seems out of his league making this potentially sharp corporate satire.
It is ultimately Paul Rudd and Steve Carell’s performances, as well as that of an excellent supporting cast- Zach Galifianakis as Carell’s boss/ wife-stealer who thinks he has the power to control other people’s minds and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as a pompous, self-important artist Julie is curating for- that ensure there are still laughs to be had in this uneven farce. There is much potential for sharper satire here, but “Dinner for Schmucks” chooses the easy way out by going for physical gags and other familiar comic misdemeanours, leaving a movie that doesn’t quite deliver on a clever premise.
(Steve Carell and Paul Rudd’s nimble comic timing save this American reimagining of a French farce from becoming a farce itself)
Review by Gabriel Chong