Dinner for Schmucks
Who’s the real schmuck?
Who’s the real schmuck?
Well talk about a role-reversal here. Too many times I (and many others) have seen great trailers that get our hopes up for movies, only to have them dashed when I see the final product, and wished the people behind the movie hadn’t suckered me into going. One case in point is almost all of the horror remakes put out by Platinum Dunes, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hitcher (2007), and especially A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), which you can read about in my own review. Friday the 13th (2009) was a pleasant exception to that track record at least. Very rarely have I seen a trailer that was completely devoid of appealing material, yet somehow the movie was fairly enjoyable. Because you know if the trailer, which should be like a mini highlight reel, is bad, then what's to be found in a whole two hours? Dinner for Schmucks happens to fall into the latter, proving that sometimes certain material works better when placed within the right context.
Plot Synopsis: Tim is a financial executive looking for that push in his job that will gain him a promotion. He finds it after his boss, Lance Fender, is impressed by his ingenuity when dealing with highly respected Swiss businessman Martin Mueller. Fender is willing to give Tim the promotion if he attends a dinner with the other high-level executives. It sounds easy, but the catch is that each person brings an idiot to the dinner and whoever brings the dumbest wins the promotion. Tim’s girlfriend, Julie, is repulsed by the premise of the dinner and asks him not to go. But when Tim accidently runs into clueless simpleton Barry with his car as Barry was picking up a dead mouse for his “mouseterpiece” artwork of The Last Supper, he gives in the open opportunity and invites Barry to the dinner. When Barry mistakenly meets Tim at his apartment a day early for the dinner, Tim invites him in without predicting the wave of destruction that Barry is about to bring down upon him.
Credit must go to Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, whose chemistry together is what keeps everything afloat, and elevates an otherwise unimpressive script. That said, I do feel that the movie relies too much on portraying Paul Rudd as yet another straight man to a wacky sidekick, which he’s played many times before, notably in the very similar I Love You, Man. And while Rudd is good at playing these kinds of characters, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in better movies. Carell on the other hand, gives it his all as the socially inept Barry. Almost all of the scenes involving his “mouseterpieces” are a riot, and eventually we are given a reason for their being that works quite well. Sometimes his shtick grates a bit on the nerves, but there’s a surprising amount of heart and sadness within Barry that hit me hard and gave him some great depth of character. However, many of the movies best laughs go to the various side characters, with Jemaine Clement’s egotistical and pretentious artist stealing the show in a role I’m sure Russell Brand was first considered for. Zach Galifianakis, as Barry’s enemy Therman, and David Walliams, as the Swiss investor, provide great support as well.
That said, if it weren’t for the skilled cast, there wouldn’t be much here to recommend. The pacing is uneven and lags at times; they could’ve have easily cut many unnecessary jokes to speed things along in a quick 90-100 minutes rather than a full two hours. Many of the set pieces, as funny as some of them may be, are just filler placed in the story to tide us over until the climatic dinner. With that in mind, the dinner scene is a great payoff to what comes before, and serves as the comedic high point in the movie. And while the first and second act material provides a generally consistent stream of laughs, there are several points that fall very flat. Part of this is attributed to director Jay Roach, whose approach to the material is essentially to place the camera in the set and let his actors roll, without much control over the tone or structure in the surely improv-heavy plot. Some scenes are underplayed too much, while others go far over-the-top into slapstick territory.
And yet, even with its erratic and overlong approach to the material, Dinner for Schmucks does work on some level. It works much in the same way that Hot Tub Time Machine worked, where the reckless abandon in which it comes together baffles in its aimlessness and slapdash plotting, yet succeeds in creating a reasonable string of laughs that hit. Considering the basic story, the movie could have used more of a pitch-black tone to its comedy and less goofiness, but it serves as an entertaining yet otherwise forgettable diversion that would make a decent rental.
Initial Rating: 2.5/4 Revised Rating: 2/4