Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Posted July 10th, 2010 at 3:39 pm

The cast and concept behind Dinner for Schmucks would seem to make for a promising comedy. While there are some laughs to be had they are few and far between and the overall result is very flat. The most disappointing aspect is the way the film felt rigid in its scripting and developments rather than being open and going off on tangents like many of the successful comedies featuring these actors have been able to produce in recent years.

Paul Rudd plays Tim, a man who is shooting for a promotion and gets invited to a dinner where “extraordinarily talented” people (aka idiots) are put on display for the amusement of the executives in attendance. By chance he (literally) runs into Barry played by Steve Carell who fits the bill. His hobby is taking mice and dressing them up for use in dioramas recreating or replicating various art or events. However beyond just that Barry drags Tim into all sorts of trouble over the short period of time from when they meet to when the dinner is held.

I’m a huge fan of Paul Rudd but something felt off here, almost as though he was reeled in. That sense that the actors were having fun improving and that some of it made it into the film was not there. I recently watched I Love You, Man again and the freedom the actors had made the film that much funnier. Dinner for Schmucks felt heavily scripted and in turn there were stretches where everything fell flat. Either because the jokes didn’t resonate or there was a push to build sentimentality that ultimately didn’t pay off in the end.

I did like Steve Carell though since he tried something new. This was not a typical Steve Carell performance and that was a good thing. As much trouble as he caused he was able to generate some sympathy which was unexpected. The two most prominent side characters are Zach Galifianakis as Therman, Barry’s boss at the IRS and “master of mind control”, and Jermain Clement as Kieran Vollard an eccentric artist being handled by Tim’s girlfriend.

While I find Galifianakis to generally be amusing, and he definitely is in this role, I can’t help when I see him to just think about “that’s Zach Galifianakis going over the top” rather than buying into the character. Obviously they wanted him to be over the top here but I couldn’t shake it and separate the two. What I really didn’t like though was the Kieran character. As soon as he came on screen, and as soon as he spoke, I identified him as a poor man’s Russell Brand. It felt as though they were trying to take the formula from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and just switch the profession.

A combination of several small elements built to really damage my overall assessment of the film. Despite taking a ton of property damage it never really phases Tim. Sorry, I don’t care how much money a guy makes, if his Porche gets trashed he is going to react. The whole story progression was predictable and cliche ridden. The typical mistaken identities and multiple instances of talking without realizing someone was standing behind them really get to me. Come up with a better way to move the story along rather than just having sequences meant to generate cheap laughs with the intention of finding ultimate redemption. It’s tiring.

Despite all the issues I had with Dinner for Schmucks it did get me to laugh at times and I can’t discount that. However I would not be able to recommend this as more than an eventual rental. As a fan of the actors involved that is most disappointing to me.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Dinner for Schmucks is rated PG-13 and releases on July 30th.