Dinner for Schmucks opens to shots of stuffed mice, lovingly posed and clothed at the park as "The Fool on the Hill" by The Beatles plays in the background. It's brilliantly stupid. Before we see Barry, we know everything we need to know about him. If only he were in a better movie. This one, well, it's decent, but predictable.
Steve Carell nor Paul Rudd are at fault. The two are as charming as ever. Rudd reprises a version of Danny Donahue from Role Models curmudgeon who's insecure with women, especially his insanely hot girlfriend. He's pretty much the same everyman he is in every movie. Carell, well he taps a mix of Brick from Anchorman and The Office's Michael Scott. He's a tornado of destruction and an idiot, but damn, we love him anyway.
Meet the Schmucks!
The whole movie builds toward a crazy climactic dinner at the home of Tim's (Rudd) boss, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood). You see, the executives of Tim's company have an annual dinner party where they each bring a "special" guest. By special, I mean crazy, loony, nuts, dumb, stupid, eccentric, etc. The goal is to bring the most entertaining idiot of the bunch. Barry is just the guy Tim needs to impress everyone at the party. It's hilarious. How we get to the last act, however, is not as fun.
I haven't seen Le Diner de Cons, the French film it's based on, but the first two thirds of Schmucks suffers from Meet the Parents syndrome. Writers David Guion and Michael Handelman decided that everything bad happens to Tim, always. He steps up his game and is shot down; his girlfriend forces him to choose her or the dinner; his crazy ex shows up; even his back goes out. (Seriously, movie characters have major spinal issues! Just ask Jeff Daniels in The Answer Man.) If you think something bad might happen, it does, and it's usually worse than you imagined. Luckily the cast holds it together, delivering impressive one-liners and silly fun under the circumstances. I'd give credit goes to Director Jay Roach for "making it work," as Tim Gunn would say, but he's the Focker who made Meet the Parents in the first place.
Without Carell and Rudd to hold the script down, this movie wouldn't work. That goes for the secondary characters as well. Jemaine Clement is perfect as a self-absorbed artist and his Flight of the Conchords co-star Kristen Schaal makes the most of her small secretarial role. Lucy Punch shows an impressive amount of crazy as Tim's ex, though I hate the direction the script takes her. David Walliams from Little Britain makes an appearance as well, but Zach Galifianakis is my favorite for two reasons: 1) he finds the clitoris, and 2) my brain is his puppet. I think that second one may actually be true.
Hard to say what it is I...
I'm still not sure what to make of Dinner for Schmucks. It definitely lives up to it's reputation: there is a dinner with plenty of schmucks, and it is funny. I really enjoyed the dinner sequence, as insane as it is. Unfortunately, Schmucks starts and finishes strong, but the road between the beginning and end just isn't as much fun. I am a big fan of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell's characters, but I wish someone had written them a better comedy.