DVD Review: A comedy of stupid-funny errors, Dinner for Schmucks lets Paul Rudd and Steve Carell ad-lib at (and trip over) one another for a couple farcical hours. That’s not a bad raison d’etre for such tomfoolery–and if you brace for the usual hit-miss ratio, the ridiculous end result is plenty amusing.
A remake of the 1998 French film The Dinner Game (Le dîner de cons), Dinner for Schmucks centers on Paul Rudd as Tim, a surprisingly unlikable corporate climber in the financial world who must impress his boss (perfectly smug jerk Bruce Greenwood) by bringing to the boss’s dinner the biggest fool he can find.
Enter Carell’s goodhearted moron Barry. He works for the IRS, but his true passion is stuffing and costuming mice in order to make intricate Rodents-in-Love dioramas. (“Mousterpieces.”) The actual dinner itself takes up a surprisingly small portion of the final fourth of the film (it didn’t appear at all in the French original)—the rest is devoted to Barry ingratiating himself into Tim’s world What About Bob style and reeking havoc on on his love and business lives.
Turning Anchorman and 40-Year-Old Virgin co-stars Rudd and Carell loose to improvise most of their scenes is a bully idea on paper, even if the two are struggling here to get into comic sync. Rudd’s straight man is essentially the same character as in Role Models and I Love You, Man. But Carell is swinging for the bleachers as Barry– he’s taken his “I love lamp” sympathetic-dolt routine and kicked it into aggressively stupid gear, playing the love child of Jerry Lewis and Forrest Gump. Staring blissfully into a simple world only he sees, nobody gives better deeply deadpan idiot than Carell.
Dinner for Schmucks takes a while to get rolling (the earnest relationship stuff between Rudd and Stephanie Szostak is deadly), but if the end result sometimes feels more forced than loose and inspired, at least the two stars are backed up by a fine supporting cast of top-notch goofballs.
Carell gets more hilarious traction when pitted against Zach Galifianakis as Barry’s boss and arch-rival. The two are operating on the same plane: a non-stop flight to Cuckoo-land. Galifianakis ends up with Schmucks’ MVP award by a beard hair, no mean feat given the competition not just from the two leads, but the stellar supporting idiots.
As an artist who’s part Russell-Brand hedonistic narcissism and part skeevy pretension, Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement is still in beautiful Gentlemen Broncos ego mode. And The Daily Show’s Larry Wilmore also steps up with some stellar drop ins.
But as is so often the case in these comedy showcases, the best work is done by the unknowns with something to prove: The wonderfully named English actress Lucy Punch (Ella Enchanted, St. Trinians) struts in full of sexy lunacy and steals almost all her scenes, though she has to settle for a tie when up against fellow Brit David Walliams as a super-tanned Swiss businessman.
And Irishman Chris O’Dowd (Pirate Radio, Gulliver’s Travels) and Alabamian Octavia Spencer show up late to add some slapdash fun as a blind swordsman and pet psychic.
As directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers, yay! Fockers, nay!) Dinner for Schmucks‘ parade of loons Silly Walks on, often to great comic effect. Its see-what-sticks approach has the usual hit-and-miss results, and the movie’s two-hour running time that could use some tightening. But it only really stumbles when it slows down for sincerity, tryng to embrace and ennoble the same characters it’s been mocking.
Forget being nice and pulling punches—in the end, Dinner for Schmucks works best with less heart and more heartlessness.
More Schmucks stars from redbox:
- Carell in Date Night on DVD and Blu-ray (Despicable Me arrives at redbox January 11)
- Galifianakis in The Hangover, Operation: Endgame, Youth in Revolt and Frenemy
More Schmucky Behavior from redbox:
- Get Him to the Greek on DVD and Blu-ray
- The Other Guys on DVD and Blu-ray
- Barry Munday
- Cop Out on DVD and Blu-ray
- MacGruber on DVD and Blu-ray
- Hot Tub Time Machine on DVD and Blu-ray
- Death at a Funeral on DVD and Blu-ray
- Grown Ups on DVD and Blu-ray