In Dinner for Schmucks, wealthy Wall Street types invite stooges to a dinner, holding a contest to see who has found the biggest moron. The M. Night Shyamalan-style twist is that the movie ends up awarding the prize to you. The movie scoffs, “I suckered you into paying $10 to re-watch the few funny moments I already showed you in my trailer! Now sit there for two hours of misery, sucker!”
Based on a 1998 French film, the movie makes you wish Steve Carell would retire from movies instead of his role on The Office. His character, an IRS agent named Barry who moonlights as a taxidermist with a specialty of crafting dioramas with mice dressed in human-like clothing, is meant to be grating and unnerving. Carell does too good a job at making his schmuck an intolerable annoyance. A cross between Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber and Jerry Lewis’ madcap stooge schtick, Barry is a miscalculation that makes the movie implode.
Paul Rudd is a game straight man as Tim, a corporate climber who recruits Barry to the big, film-ending dinner despite his morals and the nagging of his distant live-in girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak). The most entertaining character by far is Kieran (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords), a pretentious artist who is Tim’s rival for Julie’s affections. I wished the movie would have stuck with Kieran, who graphically describes himself becoming one with nature while living with goats and delivering baby zebras with his bare hands.
Director Jay Roach tries hard for a Planes, Trains and Automobiles vibe, pairing the doe-eyed, eager-to-please Barry with the poker-faced, ever-flustered Tim in an evolving relationship that develops into mutual devotion. Rudd has a few moments of hilarity when he launches into angry tirades, showing hints of the brilliance he displayed in Role Models, but too often has to step into the background as Carell goes for slapstick gags that seem tired enough to be from a movie from half a century ago.
By the time Tim sees the light and gives Barry the obligatory apology and accompanying respect, you smack your head and just wish the movie would stop with the moralizing and get back to its floundering attempts at jokes.
There’s no excuse for this thing to stretch to nearly two hours. The movie could have benefited from some serious editing, maybe to get it down to 90 minutes, or better yet, that 30 second trailer that will earn the movie any success it manages to steal.
Starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. Written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, based on the film by Francis Veber. Directed by Jay Roach. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available on Amazon.