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Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Films opening this week:
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix; Transit Drive-In - REVIEW
Charlie St. Cloud - Maple Ridge; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix
Dinner for Schmucks - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix; Transit Drive-In
The Kids Are All Right - Amherst Dipson; Eastern Hills Dipson; Quaker Regal

When reading the synopsis for 1998s French film Le dîner de cons, I was surprised at how close it was to the new Americanized version, Dinner for Schmucks. Both titles allude to the fact a dinner is planned around the invitation of guests with high levels of idiocy. The idiot who makes company owner (in the new version) Fender (Bruce Greenwood) laugh most is awarded a trophy for his/her trouble; a chalice designating the winner as “Most Extraordinary” to his face, but “Biggest Loser” behind his back.

You’ve probably seen the trailers and heard Larry Wilmore speak the words, “Best dinner ever!” so you might hope the film itself, a wild and crazy combination of kooks, suits, and the large chasm which divides them, lives up to this line. But then you recall that this is Hollywood, and the film's director is Mr. Diminishing Returns himself, Jay Roach. Our main Schmuck Barry (Steve Carell) may be the lynchpin for some of the biggest laughs and deepest moments of heart, but it is his ever-present ability to drag endearing over the edge to obnoxious that leaves the most lasting memory.

Much like Carell’s role in “The Office”, the character of Barry is the kind of simpleton who for some reason remains likable despite his abject cluelessness. You pity him more than you hate him. Though Carell is billed first, however, the film’s true lead is Paul Rudd’s Tim, who is looking to earn a promotion by banking his firm a boatload of cash. He is living the life: great job, a nice car, and a beautiful almost-fiancé, (Stephanie Szostak is drop-dead gorgeous as Julie). but he doesn't want to stay on the cabbage-smelling sixth floor much longer; he needs to be strong and show his boss what he’s made of.

It's a great plot; unfortunately, sappy sentimentality seeps in and drags the middle third to a screeching halt of monotonous tedium, showing Carell’s Barry making one misstep after another.  The audience is unable to cheer him on through, since his accidental triumphs only bring the loathsome Tim closer to victory.

The dinner itself is a comedic triumph,  especially Octavia Spencer’s pet psychic, Chris O’Dowd’s blind swordsman, and Patrick Fischler’s vulture keeper. Other memorable supporting cast members include David Walliams’s Swiss billionaire Müeller, Lucy Punch’s bruiser of a stalker Darla, and Jemaine Clement’s rugged art photographer—his work is sort of macho Matthew Barney with Francis Bacon grotesquery thrown in to fill the void. Zach Galifianakis is humorous too, but for the most part too deadpan.

The chemistry between Carell and Rudd is for the most part effective—when not cringingly repetitious. I have to concede that many viewers will probably enjoy the derivative format and jokes. And I honestly I applaud any movie this uninspired for making me at least laugh consistently.

Dinner for Schmucks 5/10

[1] Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Paramount Pictures' Dinner for Schmucks.
[2] Steve Carell and Jemaine Clement in Paramount Pictures' Dinner for Schmucks.

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