Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

As the opening credits for ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ roll on amidst a backdrop of the character of Barry (Steve Carell) preparing his ‘mousterpieces’ I see that this movie is a remake of sorts of the French movie ‘The Dinner Game’. The Dinner Game was directed by a cat named Francis Veber who made a couple of other really wacky and funny French comedies I saw in ‘The Closet’ and ‘The Valet’. Just last month I saw the completely wacky, but funny French comedy musical ‘Agathe Clery’. My point is, after actually sitting though ‘Dinner for Schmucks’, while recognizing that it did have its moments, is that perhaps these attempts at wacky comedy are better left to the French. I’m just saying is all, and I’m the last person to say anything nice about the French.

Good fortune has fallen in the lap of Tim (Paul Rudd), an analyst for whatever they have named this financial management company he works for, in that a guy on the seventh floor has lost his job and somebody from the sixth floor is going to get this job and Tim in going to make sure that somebody is him. Tim shows a little inventiveness and initiative which has gotten the attention of his boss Mr. Lender (Bruce Greenwood) who thinks Tim just might have the stuff to be the guy to sit in the newly vacated office on the seventh floor. He even goes so far to invite Tim to a special dinner party where the executives of this firm invite unique individuals with special skills for the sole purpose of making fun of them, with the person bringing the biggest idiot getting a prize and winning the favor of the boss.

Tim thinks this is messed up. His artist girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) thinks that’s messed up. Then Tim runs down Barry in his Porsche. Without spending too much time on Barry, recognize that he is indeed an idiot. Barry fetches dead mice out of the street and dresses them up. Barry has a unique sense of unawareness. Barry believes his boss at the IRS depot he works for, Therman (Zack Galifianakis), has mind control powers. Initially Tim was going to have nothing to do with this insane, cruel spirited dinner, but then Barry was sent to him from heaven above, complete with a mousterpiece version of Jesus. Don’t want to mess with Divine Intervention.

So Tim meets Barry on like a Friday, the dinner is on Saturday and in less the 24 hours Barry integrates himself into Tim’s life and completely destroys it. Car, apartment, relationship… destroyed. This about the time the formula kicks in where Idiot has destroyed life, hero says bad things about idiot, hero realizes that idiot isn’t so bad, cruel people get what they got coming, idiot is actually a true friend with it all closing in on a speech where the hero takes full accountability for all the bad things that have happened to him, blaming the idiot for nothing, just in time for the girlfriend to hear these things and experience a reaffirmation of love. The only problem with this little scenario is that, no matter what the hero says, this is ALL the idiots fault. Unequivocally. One Hundred Percent the Idiots fault.

I made brief mention earlier but ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ did have it’s moments of absolute pure comedic gold. Both occurred around a dinner table where Tim was attempting to woo a Swedish Businessman into doing business with his firm, that is before Barry showed up and screwed that up, and the actual ‘Dinner for Winners’. The rest of the movie, not so much as the funny goes. Director Jay Roach seemed to be in a very tight spot when trying to tell this American version of this story because the basis of this movie is so cruel and mean spirited. Uncomfortably so, and there’s no getting around this, which is probably why the actual Dinner where we meet quite the array of interesting idiots is put off until the very end of the movie to take some of the edge off the over all mean-spiritedness that would otherwise permeate this movie. So while we wait for this dinner to come around we are kind of stuck spending time with Tim and Barry. Tim and Barry weren’t really all that funny together. In fact Steve Carell’s rendition of Barry came off as more mentally ill than idiotic, and mental illness, in of itself, ain’t all that funny. Another problem is that both Paul Rudd and Steve Carell are really, really good straight men. Paul Rudd could be the best setup guy ever but he was trapped setting up another setup guy in this movie. This is why those dinner scenes were so funny because both of these guys had to react to the things going on around them as opposed to having to respond to each other.

Completely unrelated to this movie Carell and Rudd did a two minute routine at the ESPY’s mocking LeBron James decision to televise where he was going to play basketball. It was hilarious because you had these two deadpan setup guys setting up the ridiculous situation around them. Neither of them were actually trying to be funny with the humor coming out the situation they were in the middle of. In this movie Carell was actually stuck trying to be funny. For the entire movie. Didn’t work for me.

The only way I could see this movie completely succeeding is if Roach had dispensed with the forced sentimentality and just made this one mean-spirited ass movie filled with mean spirited assholes. That’s when this movie worked. It’s what the French would’ve done.

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