Title: Dinner for Schmucks
Directed By: Jay Roach
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Lucy Punch, Bruce Greenwood, Ron Livingston, Larry Wilmore
When studios are delivering buddy comedy after buddy comedy, each one better bring a little something new to the table on top of pouring on the humor. Dinner for Schmucks serves up big time when it comes to novelty; it’s the humor that’s on the sour side.
Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) is doing pretty well for himself. He drives a Porsche and lives in a gorgeous apartment with his loving girlfriend, but being a sixth floor analyst for Fender Financial just isn’t good enough. He wants to be on the seventh floor with the big boys. Tim actually gets his chance after a gutsy play for a vacant spot, but before the seventh floor office can officially be his, he must participate in a company tradition, a dinner for idiots. Each analyst must bring a guest and at the end of the night, the one whose lunacy is the most entertaining, wins.
That’s where Barry Speck (Steve Carell) comes in. Just when Tim’s conscience is about to compel him to ditch the dinner thing completely, Tim literally runs into Barry. It doesn’t take long for Tim to determine Barry, an IRS employee and mouse taxidermist, is certifiably insane and the perfect candidate for dinner. The problem is, Barry’s also a leech and attaches himself to Tim for the days leading up to the dinner. During that time Barry manages to chase away Tim’s girlfriend, trash his apartment, invite his crazy ex back into his life and have Tim audited.
And that’s not even the least of it. Barry is a nonstop tornado of destruction. Regardless of whether his actions are mean spirited or not, Barry is just flat out irritating. As much as Barry bugs Tim, he annoys the viewer. His strange hobby of finding dead mice, dressing them up and creating romantic dioramas is one thing, but the fact that he doesn’t seem to comprehend the difference between right and wrong to the most juvenile degree makes him come across as an absolute lunatic.
Tim certainly isn’t annoying, but that doesn’t make him a more likable character. Writers David Guion and Michael Handelman should have just kept it simple and named the character Paul Rudd because Tim is basically the same guy you’ve seen Rudd portray over and over again. He’s nice, a bit of an underdog, has a beautiful girlfriend and is struggling to manage an out-of-the-box friend who ultimately teaches him a lesson.
If only getting to the moral of this story would have been more enjoyable. There are a few giggle-worthy moments here and there, but the only laugh out loud instance is actually a slapstick gag involving Barry and Tim’s tenacious ex, Darla (Lucy Punch), which is perfectly timed. Other than that, Dinner for Schmucks is so silly, it’s not funny. Rather than getting a good laugh out of Barry unintentionally tormenting Tim, the mishaps are rather painful to watch. It’s like Barry’s relationship with another IRS employee, Therman (Zach Galifianakis), an oddity who believes he has the power to control your mind. Barry is totally enthralled by his gag, but Tim is just an outsider who sees Therman’s antics for what they really are, ridiculous. The lack of engaging characters leaves you on the outside of this movie, only permitting you to see the events for what they really are, ridiculous.
The one part that’s nearly impossible to get past is Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak). The character is so poorly developed it nearly destroys the entire plot of the film. Her main issue is that Tim attending this dinner would be a mean and heartless thing to do. Fine, but if he’s going to pass up on a dinner that could get him a major promotion she needs a better reason than that. Julie is practically out the door the moment Tim mentions he’s participating. From there she continues to overdramatically complicate Tim’s life by running into the arms of a whacky artist (Jemaine Clement) because you know Tim needs a romantic adversary. Julie could easily be removed from the movie entirely.
While this may seem like an intense pan of Dinner for Schmucks, it’s still far from a terrible experience. Nothing is so intolerably wrong with it that it’s unbearable to sit through, it’s just not very good and when you get poor material from guys who are capable of delivering so much more, it’s hard not to highlight the weaknesses. Director Jay Roach keeps the film moving at the perfect pace, so when you hit a bad joke, you won’t have to wait long for Carell and Rudd to give it another shot. Most of those shots are misses, but overall the film is harmless.
Story: C –
By Perri Nemiroff