Monday, August 09, 2010


The premise of Jay (the Austin Powers movies, Meet the Parents) Roach’s Dinner for Schmucks is so cruel, so mean-spirited, and so go-ahead-and-laugh-anyway it’s off-putting.

The movie, inspired by a French farce, tells the story of Tim Conrad, a rising exec played by the ever charming – and in this one, conflicted – Paul Rudd. His character is an ambitious lower-level pawn who’s rather dead-set on being promoted yay or yay to an upstairs, recently vacated corner office with a view.

Having made a ballsy splash at a board meeting, Tim is summoned by his boss (Bruce Greenwood) and invited to a special monthly dinner. Thrilled, he accepts, of course, but then he wants to back out once the rules are explained: This is a hush-hush dinner to which guests must bring a guest of their own…a person with a special ability of sorts – a complete idiot.

This, good ol’ Tim figures, is a distasteful but necessary evil, but his won’t-say-yes-to-his-proposal girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak) thinks it’s just terrible. In fact, her disapproval is so great, he agrees not go to the dinner and to heck with it.

But then...then he meets Barry Speck (Steve Carell).

Barry is an exceptional fellow. He’s an IRS employee who devotes his spare time to building elaborate taxidermy mouse dioramas that we eventually learn are a form of catharsis for the poor...uh...schmuck. He’s a toothy ball of obliviousness.

It’s like Tim has struck idiot gold.

This chance meeting must be a sign, one he rationalizes he simply cannot ignore, so Tim invites Barry to the dinner, not anticipating that the latter’s blundering good intentions will send his life into a frenzied downward spiral and a series of misadventures – including but not limited to threatening a make-it-or-make-it business deal with an eccentric Swiss investor, bringing stalker one night stand Darla (Lucy Punch) back into his life, and driving Julie into the arms of another man.

All of this happens, understandably, before the movie’s titular dinner, mind you, which, telling of the story-wise makes sense. We have to get to know Tim and Barry, especially, before the so-called fun begins, so that one doesn’t become a total a--hole and the other doesn’t descend into total patheticness.

Therein lies the movie’s biggest fault, I guess I can call it that.
For a movie called Dinner for Schmucks, we spend very little time around a dinner table. And we spend so much time developing a taste for Carell’s Barry, as he shows his mettle, that in the end it’s uncomfortable to watch when the joke is on him. Not that it really is – the guy’s like, all Teflon, so the joke really is on the morally bankrupt jerks who thought of such a crude exercise (ha!).

The more I think about it, clearly, that is precisely the point, but I cannot help but think that something got lost in translation.

Dinner for Schmucks is a funny movie, one that may sit better on DVD, as it ages, thanks to hilarious and likeable Carell and his brilliant performance. It just didn’t quite succeed on the big screen.

My Rating **

Photo: Paramount Pictures.

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