With the title Dinner for Schmucks and Paul Rudd and Steve Carell as leads, you might think the movie (opening July 30) would be a laugh riot. Turns out, I barely cracked a smile.
Rudd plays Tim, an executive after a big promotion who must first pass muster by bringing the biggest idiot to a monthly dinner hosted by his boss (Bruce Greenwood). Though he’s indecisive about attending the event after his girlfriend disapproves, Tim finds the perfect candidate when he hits Barry (Carell) with his car. Barry builds mice dioramas, is socially inept and seems to be Tim’s perfect ticket to that promotion. Eventually, of course, Tim discovers who the real schmucks are.
The most amusing thing about the movie, based on the French film Le Diner de Cons, is the opening credits, when we see Barry creating his delightful dioramas with meticulously dressed mice set in charming scenery. Then it’s all downhill from there, a head-scratching turn of events considering the cast, which also includes Lucy Punch and Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement and Kristen Schaal, all capable of being very funny. They’re hampered by a script by David Guion and Michael Handelman that seems to think outrageousness equals hilarity, which it doesn’t, at least not here. Clement used to make me laugh out loud on Conchords because the humor (which he wrote with Bret McKenzie) was rooted in reality. Here, he’s forced to wear crazy outfits and do weird things just for shock value, resulting in scenes that are simply ridiculous.
I was also dismayed by director Jay Roach having Rudd in his movie and not allowing him to be funny, not even once. Rudd plays the straight man and mostly has to act exasperated at everyone’s antics. The squandered opportunity for inspired riffing with his co-star is frustrating. Carell, who is just as good a dramatic actor as a comedic one, makes Barry sympathetic but we’ve seen this performance before. Barry’s innocence is reminiscent of Andy’s in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and his inappropriate comments are similar to what comes out of Michael Scott’s mouth every week on The Office. Barry does provide some heart but I wish the movie had more of a funny bone.
Nerd verdict: Dinner‘s an empty dish
Photos: Merie Weismiller Wallace