Dinner for Schmucks

Funny thing about the Paul Rudd/Steve Carell comedy Dinner for Schmucks– it’s not a Rudd/Carell comedy, and it’s not really about a dinner for schmucks.

You can call it a Carell-only comedy, I suppose, but even that would be stretching it a bit. Rudd, I bet, had more fun in his minuscule role as the gadget-laden boyfriend of Ben Stiller’s ex in Night at the Museum than in this thing.

Dinner-wise– if you can make it through an hour-and-a-half of set up, the twenty-minute dinner scene is certainly amusing, but to call this Dinner for Schmucks is a little like if Toy Story 3 had been called Tense Moment in the Junkyard.

Rudd plays Tim, a humorless financial analyst who’s angling for a promotion at his firm. To seal the deal, his boss invites him to a monthly gathering to which the execs must all bring a guest– the biggest idiot they can find. If Tim can step up to the plate and find an absolute loser, then he gets the corner office.

This idea doesn’t sit very well with his museum-curator girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), but the promise of a promotion wins out, especially when Tim literally runs into IRS pencil-pusher Barry (Carell), whose idiocy rests in the fact that he scours L.A. streets for roadkilled mice to use in taxidermy panoramas.

The vast majority of Dinner centers on Barry’s rather instant (though unintentional) sabotage of Tim’s life in the day leading up to the dinner– he innocently mistakes Tim’s psycho stalker Darla (Lucy Punch) for Julie and invites her up to Tim’s apartment (mayhem ensues), he tries to rescue Tim’s client brunch by bringing Darla along (mayhem ensues), he breaks into the apartment of one of Julie’s artists to try to retrieve Tim’s car keys (long story… but once again, mayhem ensues). The end result is a Murphy’s Law-ish comedy of errors that’s lighter on the comedy and heavier on errors. Sure, you can’t help but laugh at much of what Barry does and says (especially since Carell’s playing a dumbed-down version of Michael Scott), but Dinner for Schmucks ends up being more silly than flat-out funny.

You would think, with a cast that includes not only Carell and Rudd but also Ron Livingston (Office Space), Larry Wilmore (The Daily Show), and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), that the comedy would flow like wine at a… well, dinner party, but the only time the movie really gets going is with the arrival of Barry’s co-worker Therman (Zach Galifianakis).

As another of the titular schmucks, who exercises ‘mind-control’ over Barry and who has stolen Barry’s wife, Galifianakis provides some hilarious moments that are effective because he plays the role so over-the-top. Had the rest of the cast and crew followed suit and actually let themselves have some fun, Dinner for Schmucks might have ended up being a non-stop, laugh-out-loud riot, instead of just an appetizer for what could have been.

1.5/5 stars