Evan Almighty aside, Steve Carell doesn’t make bad movies. The same can be said for Paul Rudd. Easily two of the funniest men working in Hollywood today, Rudd and Carell have continually put out quality films and have collaborated on a number of previous pictures. Now they're back together for the first time since 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin, but don't expect that magic to strike again. Instead, meet Dinner for Schmucks, a loathsome, abysmally unfunny comedy that takes the talent of its stars and squanders it.
Tim (Rudd) is a businessman at Fender International, a private equity firm. However, he is stuck as a low level employee and dreams of the day when he can move up. That day comes when a superior is fired, leaving his job and his office open. Naturally, Tim jumps at the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder and soon finds himself among the company big wigs. Before he has even settled in, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) informs him of a dinner party he hosts once a month. He and his colleagues all try to find the biggest idiot they can and bring them to dinner to make fun of them. To fit in, Tim must do the same. Soon he runs into (with his car) Barry (Carell), the king of idiots who has an affinity for taking dead mice and positioning them in famous paintings, like Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” So a friendship blossoms, but Barry is ignorant to the fact that Tim is using him as a patsy to get his promotion.
This movie further supports my theory that the word “schmucks” is really difficult to realistically fit into dialogue. It’s not a common word these days (and is usually replaced by something far more vulgar). I say this because, despite the title, the word is never used, replacing the hurtful term with the more direct “idiots.” The word is forced into the title when it doesn’t belong, which perfectly illustrates the nature of the writing. The weak jokes, the cheesy speeches on love and the exaggerated personality of Carell’s character all seemed excessive and taken off the page with little artistic interpretation.
Coincidentally, it’s not funny. When I Love You, Man came out, many critics bashed it for what appeared to be indulgent ad-libbing. They claimed the dialogue never felt natural because real people didn’t talk like that. It’s a legitimate complaint, but when you have Paul Rudd, why not let him go off the rails a bit? Here he seems tied to the script, as do the rest of the cast, and the script is humorless.
The perplexity of Dinner for Schmucks is that it takes quite some time to get to the titular dinner, despite it being the main attraction. In fact, the film goes through its whole narrative arc—the meet up, break up and reconciliation of Tim and Barry—before they even arrive for the meal, so when it finally does come, you don’t really care.
Of course, I suppose you wouldn’t care regardless because the whole set-up of the dinner is contrived and the importance laughable. Similar to the ridiculous bet in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, there’s a big business deal, a 100 million dollar deal to be exact, that hinges on the success of the dinner because, naturally, all business deals hang in the balance of such trivial matters.
I truly hated Dinner for Schmucks and it hurts me to say that, but Rudd, Carell and director Jay Roach (who also directed Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and the Austin Powers trilogy) have all been involved in bigger and better things. However, even with this debacle under their belts, I expect great things from them in the future. If that future somehow doesn't play out, the cinema world will be in mourning. We will have lost a trifecta of funny.
Dinner for Schmucks receives 1/5