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Josh Reviews Dinner For Schmucks!

Hoo boy, this one was disappointing.

I’m a big fan of both Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, and I thought Dinner For Schmucks had a premise that was so weird it seemed to promise good comedy.  Rudd plays Tim, who is trying desperately to climb the ladder at the private equity firm at which he works.  When one of his ideas sparks the attention of his boss (the always-great Bruce Greenwood), Tim gets an invite to his boss’ annual dinner.  But this isn’t just any dinner: each guest must bring, as their guest, the biggest idiot they can possibly find.  The purpose, simply, is for the rich hosts to mock the unfortunate souls gathered for the meal.  When Tim accidentally hits the socially awkward, dead-mice-collecting taxidermist Barry (Steve Carell) with his car, he seems to have found the perfect guest to bring along.

I’ve got to hand it to the filmmakers for having the guts to go with Dinner For Schmucks as their title.  (I’m not quite sure how that one got approved by the MPAA while Kevin Smith’s buddy cop film A Pair of Dicks had to be re-titled Cop Out — do the suits not know what the word schmuck means?)  But that title is about the only edgy element to be found in this broad, obvious comedy.

There aren’t any real, human characters to be found in this film.  Despite being one of the two male leads, I didn’t feel like we really got to know Rudd’s character Tim at all.  He likes his girlfriend and wants to get ahead in business.  What else did we learn over the course of the film?  Tim is painfully middle-of-the-road — not nice enough of a person to be someone we really sympathize with while watching the film, nor enough of a jerk to have any sort of character arc in the movie.  Then there is Carell’s Barry, who’s a big giant goofy cartoon, full of all sorts of bizarre manners and idiosyncracies.  I guess it’s all supposed to be funny, but it didn’t really tickle my funny-bone.

Director Jay Roach has been involved in some very funny movies (such as Austin Powers films), but it seems that lately he’s tended to make overly simplistic, broad comedies (such as the Meet the Parents films), and Dinner For Schmucks exacerbates that trend.  The set-ups for the gags are tired and obvious.  Hey, two characters have the same phone, I wonder if they’re going to get mixed up?  Hey, Tim has an important lunch, I wonder if Barry is going to screw that up?  Hey, now would be the worst moment for Tim’s girlfriend Julie (the beautiful Stephanie Szostak) to show up, so I wonder if she’ll walk through the door?  And on and on.

I will say that things pick up in the final half-hour, when the titular dinner finally (finally!) takes place.  Some terrific comedic actors appear, and the anarchy builds to a satisfying crescendo.  But the film takes way WAY too long to get to that point.

The two bright spots in the whole undertaking are Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement.  Galifianakis plays Therman, Barry’s boss at the IRS.  He’s even more insanely bizarre than Barry is, but whereas I found Carrell’s mugging to be more awkward than funny, Galifianakis’ weirdness hit just the right sweet spot for me.  Clement (from Flight of the Conchords) plays the artist with whom Julie is working to curate a big show.  I’ve seen pompous, full-of-themselves artists portrayed on screen many times before, but Clement steps beyond the familiar comedic cliche and creates a wonderfully mad character.  Every moment he’s on screen he commands the movie.  This guy deserves his own spin-off, a la Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow!

All the rest of the ensemble — including the usually reliable Ron Livingston, Larry Wilmore, and Kristen Schaal — are stranded with little to do.

My suggestion for the weekend: take a pass on Dinner For Schmucks, and go see Inception for a second time!

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