Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks **
Directed By:
Jay Roach.
Written By: David Guion & Michael Handelman based on the screenplay by Francis Veber.
Starring: Steve Carell (Barry), Paul Rudd (Tim), Zach Galifianakis (Therman), Jemaine Clement (Kieran), Stephanie Szostak (Julie), Lucy Punch (Darla), Bruce Greenwood (Lance Fender), David Walliams (Müeller), Ron Livingston (Caldwell), Larry Wilmore (Williams).

Dinner for Schmucks is an oddly disjointed movie. I cannot deny that I laughed quite a bit during the movie, because I did, but the film never really builds any comic momentum. There are isolated lines that are hilarious, but from one scene to the next, the movie fails to keep things moving along. I laughed a lot, but I also sat there stone faced quite a bit of the time, and I kept wondering why the movie didn’t quite feel like it gelled together.

The premise of the movie is simple, and should have worked wonderfully. Tim (Paul Rudd) works for a big financial firm, and wants to get a promotion. He has finally caught the eye of the head of the company, Fender (Bruce Greenwood), and he seems to be in line for it. But to get the job, he has to do something he is uncomfortable with. Every month, Fender holds a dinner for all his top people – and each one is expected to invite and idiot to it so that they can all feel superior. He doesn’t really want to do this, and when he tells his fiancée Julie (Stephanie Szostak) she cannot believe he is even considering it – causing them to argue. But then someone falls into his lap that couldn’t be more perfect. This is Barry (Steve Carell), who works for the IRS, but whose real passion is finding dead mice and posing them in elaborate tableaus. Barry is completely clueless to any and all social normality’s, and Tim ends up inviting him. But when Barry shows up a day early, all hell breaks loose, and he just makes things more difficult between Tim and Julie. Eventually, of course, they will get to the dinner but before then there are many side trips – most involving either Therman (Zach Galifianakis), Barry’s nemesis at the IRS, or Kieran (Jemaine Clement), an artist who works with Julie, and who’s raw, animal magnetism worries him.

There are moments and one liners in this film as funny as anything I have seen this year. Particularly brilliant is Clement, who continues to prove (as he does on Flight of the Concords and in the horrible Gentleman Broncos, where he was utterly brilliant despite the crap movie surrounding him) that he is one of the best comedic actors out there right now. Rudd is fine as Tim – much as he always is the straight man in his films, he fills that role better than just about anyone else out there right now. And Carell has his moments as well. Week in, week out he plays the utterly clueless Michael Scott so brilliantly on The Office, that Barry must have seemed like an easy role for him – he just has to ratchet up that cluelessness a little bit more to get Barry. Yet, Carell makes you like Barry. For all his cluelessness, he seems perfectly at ease with himself, and is rather happy. No, I wouldn’t spend my spare time making dead mice into Jesus, George Washington or other people, but if it brings him joy, who I am to tell him otherwise? This is the slowly dawning realization that Tim has as well – Barry is just Barry, and he doesn’t need to mock others to make himself feel better. And Tim would rather be in the company of Barry, than with the others who do feel that need.

Dinner for Schmucks should have worked brilliantly. The cast is in place, the premise simple yet has huge potential for comedy, and yet the movie never really settles into itself. It is too busy throwing out one liners to every really build to anything beyond them. I haven’t seen the original French film, The Dinner Game, which was the basis for this film so I really cannot compare this to that one, but I suspect the French was better. After all, if the French film was as scattershot as this film is, they never would have remade it in the first place.

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