Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”)
Written by: David Guion (“The Ex”) and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”)
It would have been torturous enough if the movie “Dinner for Schmucks” had remained truthful to its title and only forced us to sit through a single meal and maybe a couple of drinks. Instead, director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents,” “Austin Powers” trilogy) extends the idiot-filled evening into a collection of unbearably tacky scenarios that might have worked better as an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Sure, it’s obvious certain things need to lead up to a dinner with a bunch of sad-sack morons, but what Roach and screenwriting partners David Guion and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”) come up with makes the hilariously daft “Dumb and Dumber” feel like a thinking-man’s movie.
Cast in the least of these cartoonish roles is Paul Rudd. Rudd plays Tim, a bottom-feeding analyst in the corporate world who sees an opportunity to climb the totem pole when his company fires one of their top executives. When Tim makes an impression on his boss Lance (Bruce Greenwood) by introducing the company to a potential billionaire client, Tim is invited to attend a top secret dinner held every month for the company big wigs.
At these dinners, executives are asked to bring the strangest guest they can find so he or she can be insulted throughout the night. While the idea goes against Tim’s strict moral code, he decides he can’t pass up a chance at a promotion especially now that his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is at the brink of finally accepting his marriage proposal. When she finds out about the dinner, however, she isn’t pleased.
The schmuck himself comes in the form of Barry (Steve Carell), a normal-enough looking guy whose remarkable qualities come from his taxidermy work. Basically, Barry stuffs dead mice, dresses them in costumes, and places them into dioramas for display. Barry calls his creations “mousterpieces.” Although Tim finds his odd hobby disgusting, he also sees it as a way to impress the execs and invites Barry to his dinner for dummies in hopes of landing a corner office.
Barry, however, misunderstands dinner plans and shows up at Tim’s apartment a day early. This is where the botched comedy of manners begins as Barry manages to muddle up Tim’s life in less than 24 hours. He starts by inviting Tim’s psycho one-night-stand to his apartment and continues by talking Tim into thinking Julie is cheating on him with a ridiculous artist (Jemaine Clement of TV’s “Flight of the Conchords”). Who knew schmucks could be so influential?
Like Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas and Jeff Daniel’s Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber,” Barry lacks an awareness of his idiocy, but does so less convincingly. In “Dumbe,r” when Harry thinks Aspen is located in California, it’s funny. In “Schmucks,” when Barry drags out a joke about believing Tim invented the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” it’s not. Even if someone could be that clueless, “Schmucks” begs us to have sympathy for these characters and learn something from the mean-spirited narrative.
At times unbearable to watch, “Dinner for Schmucks” is disguised as a movie with profound life lessons about friendship and acceptance. If you really get swindled into believing this comedy has heart, please raise your hand. There’s this dinner I’d like to invite you to.