Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis, Stephanie Szostak, Ron Livingston, Bruce Greenwood, Kristen Schaal
Andy Borowitz, Danielle Kasen
Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
David Guion, Francis Veber
Michael Handelman, Jon Vitti
A remake of Francis Veber's French farce The Dinner Game, Dinner for Schmucks pairs Steve Carell and Paul Rudd as a wildly mismatched odd couple thrown together by one man's upward mobility, another man's nonsensibility and the notion that everything does indeed happen for a reason.
Rudd is Tim, a successful "sixth floor" analyst whose desire to make it to his firm's top floor is suddenly within reach when he finds himself invited to the inner circle's monthly dinner gathering. Each attendee is to bring a high falootin' loser to the dinner where they will all be put on a rather freakish display and, you guessed it, the biggest loser makes their host an even bigger winner.
Tim isn't quite cruel enough to not see the sheer humiliation involved in this exercise, a fact drummed into his brain by his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak), but when Barry (Carell) seemingly falls into his lap during a traffic mishap he can't help but view it as a sign from God that he's supposed to go to this dinner party and take Barry with him.
Of course, nothing goes as planned.
Not surprisingly, Dinner for Schmucks is nowhere near as biting or cruel as its French predecessor. In fact, it's nowhere near as funny as Francis Veber's The Dinner Game, however, however, director Jay Roach and his team of writers do manage to infuse the film with a much more satisfying degree of humanity and, unlike Veber's film, an actual dinner party.
How much you enjoy Dinner for Schmucks may very well depend upon your tolerance for Steve Carell, a man who is seen by some as the funniest man working in cinematic comedy today and by others as a maddeningly one-note comic who keeps finding films to match that one note. While this critic leans towards the former conclusion, it's also true that Dinner for Schmucks does manage to capitalize on many of the things America has come to know, love and expect from Carell including his ability to project simultaneously a wholesome goodness, a sort of not so thinly veiled idiocy and, yet, a certain naughty little boy charm.
Here, by the time Tim and Barry have made it to the actual dinner Tim's world has been turned upside down by Barry's well intended but ill-conceived attempts at forging an actual friendship. To give away too much about either character would be to spoil the surprise and a few of the film's funnier gags, but watching Barry try so hard yet fail miserably is both funny and sweet while Rudd's Tim is almost as equally inept at being a participant in the climactic dinner.
One of the true joys of Carell's performance is that he, in fact, does not allow Barry to be a one-note "idiot." Barry is a creator of the most awesomely strange and interesting dioramas and lost his wife (admittedly, it was a bit difficult imagining him ever actually getting his wife) to a professional peer who continues to haunt him. Most actors would have been content to play Barry as nothing more than as a funny loser, but Carell embodies the sort of socially awkward, wounded loser whom we all know. Barry's the kind of guy you feel like you know and, if you don't, he's the kind of guy you find yourself wanting to know.
Rudd, in one of his more satisfying comic performances, is just as delightful in a less attention-seeking yet no less effective way. Rudd is essentially the straight man for the lunacy that surrounds him, but he's able to pull it off without ever getting swallowed up by it. The only area that doesn't quite satisfy is in the less than convincing relationship he shares with his girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), an up-and-coming art curator working with a larger than life artist (played with Russell Brand type outlandishness by Jemaine Clement). As an I.R.S. supervisor with alleged "mind control" powers, comic Zach Galifianakis pretty much steals the 15-20 minutes of the film he's in. Bruce Greenwood, Ron Livingston and Kristen Schaal stand out as supporting players, though Schaal's delightful turn as Tim's assistant feels abruptly and inexplicably ended about midway through the film.
At a solid two hours, Dinner for Schmucks is a good 15-20 minutes too long. However, it is worth noting that the dinner party, while an exercise in over-the-top excessiveness, is also one of the film's funniest and most satisfying scenes.
Those who don't have an appreciation for Steve Carell aren't likely to have their minds changed by Dinner for Schmucks, though the film does find Carell giving a more disciplined, more emotionally resonant spin on his usual lovable nerd type character. While the film isn't likely to be considered a comedy classic, Dinner for Schmucks is one of summer 2010's most satisfying comedies.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic