Directed by Jay Roach, written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, 114 minutes, rated PG-13.
By Christopher Smith
The new Jay Roach movie, “Dinner for Schmucks,” is a riff on Francis Veber’s 1998 French film “Le Diner de Cons,” which is a funnier movie because it courts a more absurd and cutting sensibility.
It also is more satire than comedy, and as such, it enjoys the long leash of cruelty it allows itself, and it frequently lets go of that leash so the comic cruelty infused into the script can run wild.
Roach has a different approach.
Working from David Guion and Michael Handelman’s script, he creates a lighter film designed for the PG-13 set that is more winks and nods than it is knives in the back. The movie is designed to appeal to plenty, which at once neuters those moments when it really could have gone for the joke, but which allows it its widest possible audience.
Which do you think Hollywood wanted?
The film stars Paul Rudd as Tim, who essentially is a nice, reasonably successful financial analyst stuck on the six floor of his office complex. Here is where the average people toil. Here also is where Tim would rather flee. He knows that if he can somehow find his way to the seventh floor, where real success awaits, then doors would open wider for him elsewhere. You know, like at banks.
And then one day opportunity strikes. Someone from the seventh floor is fired, thus leaving one of the coveted offices empty. At a meeting, Tim finds a way to impress his boss (Bruce Greenwood), which leads to a dinner date with a catch--he must bring with him the biggest idiot he can find. The idea is that at dinner, those on the seventh floor--where looking down on people is a daily ritual--can toast their own superiority by having a good laugh at someone else’s expense.
Though he isn’t at all comfortable with the idea, Tim isn’t perfect and so he decides to go for it when he accidentally runs his car into Barry, a toothy taxidermist who takes dead mice and gives them new life by making clothes for them and posing them in ways that are quaint, almost pastoral. Though Tim’s girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), is repelled by the idea of this dinner, circumstances conspire against Tim to stop it from happening, and after a disastrous day spent together, he and Barry are right in the middle of it. Cue the shenanigans.
Carell and Rudd are nicely paired here, with Carell managing the most difficult role with ease. In order to be believable as Barry, who means well and is a good man, Carell also must believe in this character himself, in spite of the sheer destruction Barry causes throughout the movie. If he lets the audience in with even a trace of a wink, the effect is spoiled. The gig is up. The movie ruined.
But he doesn’t. He remains in character throughout, and he guides the film through its looping string of absurdities, with Rudd essentially here to play it straight and keep up with his co-star.
Morality and ethics eventually take hold in ways that they never did in the original film, but not before unleashing three terrifying characters--an aggressive lass (Lucy Punch) who wields a whip and stalks Tim, an IRS agent (Zach Galifianakis) who apparently possesses mind control, and an artist (Jermaine Clement) who has--how to put this delicately?--interesting ways of creating his art.
“Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t the summer’s best comedy, but at this point in the season, when movies typically take a turn for the worse before better fare appears in the fall, it comes through with enough laughs to make it worth a look.
View WeekinRewind.com's preview of "Dinner for Schmucks" below. What did you think of the movie?