“Dinner for Schmucks” is a movie comprised of a man who feeds his pet vulture by regurgitating food into its mouth, a ventriloquist married to his dummy and a woman who believes she can talk to the souls of dead animals.
If any of this strikes you as funny you’ll likely find “Dinner for Schmucks” to be a satisfying comedy. Perhaps my funny bone is broken, but I just didn’t laugh at much of “Dinner for Schmucks.”
The film is a prime example of a comedy that tries too hard to win the audience over.
Paul Rudd plays Tim, an executive who realizes his superiors at work are a bunch of jerks. Yet, he still wants to be promoted to their floor to impress his long-term girlfriend, played by Stephanie Szostak.
Tim gets this opportunity when his boss invites him to one of his monthly dinner parties. This isn’t a typical dinner party, though. It’s a contest where everybody brings a guest who is a complete idiot for their amusement.
Tim finds his idiot when he accidentally runs his car into a man named Barry, played by Steve Carell, who seems to be in every other comedy nowadays. Barry works for the IRS, although his true passion involves dressing up dead mice in elaborate outfits. He’s the perfect "schmuck" to bring to the party.
But when Barry tries to work his way into Tim’s personal life, he becomes harder to get rid of than Del Griffith in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
Rudd and Carell have great chemistry, which is no surprise given their previous work together in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Anchorman.”
They both stay true to their characters and never reveal any sign of awareness that they’re in a screwball comedy. Carell does an especially amazing job at turning Barry into a three-dimensional character. In the hands of another actor, Barry might have been an irrefutable nuisance much like Jim Carrey’s character in “The Cable Guy.” However, Carell manages to make him into a kind-hearted human being that sincerely wants to help Tim.
As talented as the whole cast is, a majority of the players are underused. Jemaine Clement, who I loved on “Flight of the Conchords,” has a fun role as a bearded, sex-driven photographer who wears a centaur outfit. The problem is that his character comes off as a retread of Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow.
Another “Flight of the Conchords” cast member not used to her full potential is the very funny Kristen Schaal, who is given virtually nothing to do as Tim’s secretary.
There’s also Zach Galifianakis, one of our most gifted comedic actors, as Barry’s rival at work. He’s essentially limited to the one joke that his character believes he has mind-control abilities. This gag gets pretty old pretty quickly.
Despite its shortcomings, I did laugh at a fair deal of “Dinner for Schmucks.” There’s a funny and well-timed subplot involving Lucy Punch as a stalker obsessed with Tim. But Director Jay Roach, who has made some good comedies like the three “Austin Powers” movies and the two “Focker” pictures, struggles to make the somewhat cruel premise funny.
This is one of those movies with all the pieces to make an A-list comedy. However, the filmmakers never quite mold the pieces together. The end product comes off as the poor man’s “I Love You, Man.”
“Dinner for Schmucks” also gives into a cliché that’s becoming more and more common in movies like this. If somebody drives a Porsche or any nice car, it will unquestionably get wrecked. Is it me, or am I the only one starting to get tired of all the automobile abuse in movies?
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