Dinner is fun, even if it turns the guests and the audience into schmucks
Paul Rudd seems to be stuck in a rut. The past few movies he’s starred in—I Love You, Man, Role Models—have him, all doe-eyed, alongside a complete doofus whom he eventually grows to love.
That’s the basic premise of Dinner for Schmucks as well. Rudd is Tim, an analyst at a money-management firm who, in hopes of impressing his boss and getting promoted comes up with a genius idea to snag a new client. Here’s the hitch: Boss man likes the plan, but first Tim has to go through an initiation of sorts by coming to a dinner bringing an idiot everyone can make fun of.
As almost a sign from God, Tim literally runs into his idiot, Barry (a buck-toothed Steve Carell), whose hobby is to collect and stuff dead mice to place in shadow boxes dressed up in costumes. The problem here is that Tim is actually a nice guy. So when his beautiful, foreign girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) tells him not to go to the dinner, everything that was going well starts to unwind.
The film is actually less concerned with the dinner than it is the idiot (Barry) and the schmuck (Tim). When Barry mixes up the date of the dinner, a string of events leads to Julie heading over to a sexed-up artist’s private ranch (she’s a curator) and Tim almost blowing it with his potential hot-shot client.
The dinner itself is like the big game in a sports film in which the lead character must choose between cheating and winning, and taking the high road but losing everything. It doesn’t quite go that route, though, which is a nice surprise, as the rest of the film is fairly boiler-plate.
Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) has a good cast here, but everything plays out so predictably that the funny moments are not quite as hilarious as those in his previous efforts. Rudd is the same old Rudd—he does a great job of playing the cute, nice guy but fails to jump out of that mold. Carell is wonderfully annoying and charmingly naïve as Barry.
Some of the minor roles, however, tend to steal the show. Lucy Punch, for example, plays Tim’s stalker and outshines by a long shot Szostak, whose character is a bonafide bore. Another fun-but-crazy addition is Jemaine Clement (The Flight of the Conchords), who portrays the sex-crazed artist Kieran with over-serious perfection. Zach Galifianakis, who is huge these days, is becoming a bit of a cliché, and it almost feels like he’s thrown in here for name recognition alone—lame.
Dinner for Schmucks ultimately has a sweet message, but it unfortunately takes turning the viewer into a “schmuck” to get it that far.