July 31, 2010
Review - " Dinner for Schmucks " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Dinner for Schmucks
Directed by: Jay Roach
Starring: Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, Stephanie Szostak, Bruce
The meal referred to in the title is a soup-to-nuts affair; that is, soup
will be served to a bunch of nuts. Dinner for Schmucks has several
momentary bursts of hilarity, but ends up being difficult to digest.
Paul Rudd plays Tim Conrad, an ambitious investment analyst at a
Los Angeles financial firm who, wanting a raise and promotion at
Fender Financial so that his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) might
marry him, agrees to participate in a mean-spirited contest among the
businessmen invited to a monthly dinner party given by Tim’s boss,
Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood), at his mansion.
At this ironically labeled Dinner for Winners, each invitee must bring a
person he considers the biggestidiot/fool/freak/nerd/moron/dunce/jerk
he can find. Think of it as BYOB: Bring Your Own Boob.
Anyway, although his girlfriend strongly disapproves of his
participation in an event that is sure to humiliate half of the guests
and in touch with his own reluctance and repugnance, Tim, caught up
in the competitive corporate culture, signs on anyway, knowing
that if he can win the competition — that is, if he can turn up with the
biggest schmo in the room — he’ll get the cherished promotion and
end up in an office a floor or two closer to heaven.
As fate would have it, Tim then accidentally but literally runs into a pedestrian in Beverly Hills, one Barry Speck, a strange,
ingenuous IRS employee and avocational taxidermist whose hobby is constructing striking dioramas featuring dead, clothed
mice that he calls his “mousterpieces.” Enough said: this guy’s a candidate. He’s played by Steve Carell as a guy whose
childlike cluelessness about his own level of idiosyncrasy makes Carell’s Michael Scott character on TV’s The Office seem a
paragon of sensitivity and restraint.
But when Barry accepts an invitation to the crucial meal, and turns into The Man Who Came to Dinner Early by mistakenly
showing up at Tim’s place a day too soon, Tim’s heretofore comfortable existence begins imploding.
Director Jay Roach has quite a track record turning out convulsively funny comedies. He’s been at the helm of all three
Austin Powers romps, as well as Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. But Dinner for Schmucks is oddly off a beat: it
often seems in the right area code to strike us as hysterical, yet never quite arrives at the exact address.
It juggles slapstick and verbal comedy atop a sad undercurrent in a way that keeps it overwhelmingly funny/peculiar and only
very occasionally funny/haha. Dead spots and flat jokes abound. The party provides the extended comic climax, and there
is a modest cathartic payoff, by which time we’re questioning just who is being labeled and described by that last word in the
Rudd and Carell have worked together before
(on The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman),
and they have a decent comic rapport as an
odd couple of buds. But reliable Rudd, given
far too little to do, is not only much more real
but actually funnier as the straight man than
Carell is as the constructed-but-not-inhabited
clown. Carell’s character, a collection of
arbitrary quirks, just never adds up.
A group of able farceurs including Zach
Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Lucy Punch,
Larry Wilmore, and Ron Livingston support
the leads, but it’s the Rudd-Carell relationship
that’s the main course here and it’s just not
tasty or nourishing enough.
So we’ll invite 2 1/2 stars out of 5. Intriguingly
demented but far short of delightful, Dinner
for Schmucks looks from a distance like a
farce to be reckoned with and a feast for the