'Dinner for Schmucks': A light repast for adult-comedy fans
A review of the light repast "Dinner for Schmucks," which is perfectly cast, down to the smallest roles. It features Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Jemaine Clement, Jeff Dunham, Bruce Greenwood, Kristen Schaal. Reviewed by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Dinner with Schmucks,' with Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Jemaine Clement, Jeff Dunham, Bruce Greenwood, Ron Livingston, Lucy Punch, Stephanie Szostak. Directed by Jay Roach, from a screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handelman, inspired by the French film "Le Diner de Cons" by Francis Veber. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language. Several theaters.
As movies go, "Dinner for Schmucks" isn't exactly a full meal; maybe "A Small Snack, Perhaps with Fries, in the Company of Schmucks" might have been a better title. Though Jay Roach's movie, based on Francis Veber's 1998 French film "The Dinner Game," is certainly long, it isn't quite filling, despite some tasty moments.
Paul Rudd, his shiny handsomeness in fine form, plays Tim, a financial analyst trying to get ahead at his firm. When the boss (Bruce Greenwood) takes an interest in him, Tim learns that climbing the ladder means getting involved in some strange activities: namely, attending said boss's monthly dinner party, to which each guest must bring an eccentric — or, more bluntly, an idiot. ("We're collectors," says a smug colleague.) Tim, a decent sort, is appalled and vows not to attend. And then fate hands him a gift: Barry (Steve Carell), an oddball IRS employee and part-time taxidermist who wanders in front of Tim's Porsche in the hopes of saving a not-yet-squashed mouse corpse.
As in the French movie, the two quickly find their lives entwined: Tim's back goes out; Barry, trying to help, disastrously mixes up Tim's girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) and his ex-girlfriend-turned-stalker Darla (Lucy Punch); the IRS gets dragged into matters; and some very cute and very tiny mouse outfits get constructed. And along the way, Tim learns that the ever-ebullient Barry isn't an idiot, but is actually a friend.
Roach never quite seems to have control of the movie; the uneven gags wander all over the place before the film arrives at its well-staged final act, and, like so many contemporary Hollywood comedies, it could well have benefited from some tightening-up. But it's wonderfully cast, down to the smallest roles: Ron Livingston as a smirking ladder-climber; Kristen Schaal as Tim's sweetly desperate assistant ("Suck it up and make fun of the idiots!" she orders him); David Walliams as an unctuous Swiss gazillionaire. Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords"), waving his perfectly practiced pout like a flag, steals the movie as a self-important artist — a man who talks through his own heavy breathing, like he's entranced by his own allure.
And Rudd and Carell, two of the most likable comic actors working today, make a charming pairing: Rudd turns a potentially despicable character into a recognizable mensch; Carell, with his I'm-not-here-but-it's-OK smile, finds poetry in Barry's cheerful cluelessness. Give these two a better script, and you just might have a comedy classic. Instead, we have here a tolerable near-miss; enough to keep the hunger pangs away until a real meal arrives.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org