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Entries in Paul Rudd (7)

Friday
Dec172010

How Do You Know

The requirements a romantic comedy must meet to be considered a quality product are flimsy. If there’s one genre of film that manages to suck more than any other, it’s that one, so when I see one I know I’m going to recommend, I inevitably wonder if it’s because it’s actually good or if I’m just lowering my standards in response to the cavalcade of garbage I’ve sat through. In the case of How Do You Know, I think it may be the latter. Despite having James L. Brooks, director of As Good as It Gets and the underappreciated Spanglish, at the helm, How Do You Know is a mixed bag of delight and dismay.

Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, a gold medalist softball player who is about to find out she has been cut from the team. Her new boyfriend, Matty, played by Owen Wilson, is the star pitcher on the Washington Nationals, whose team seems to make spectacular plays in front packed stadiums (which solidifies that this is indeed a work of fiction). But when one of Lisa’s friends gives George, played by Paul Rudd, her number, she finds herself in a love triangle. Like herself, George needs some comfort because he has just been subpoenaed and is under investigation for securities fraud, though he honestly doesn’t know why. He has done nothing wrong. So Lisa finds herself torn and tries to juggle both relationships, though one is clearly working more than the other.

Also thrown in the mix is Jack Nicholson playing George’s father. The cast Brooks wrangled up for How Do You Know is impressive. All are great talents and provide different attributes to the film. Wilson is the funny one, Witherspoon is the sweet one, Nicholson is the mean and selfish one and Rudd is the all around pleasant one, making it easy to understand why Witherspoon could fall for him even though he may see jail time. They’re all wonderful in their roles; they’re just not given much to do.

The characters all seem to be walking a loop, especially Lisa who leaves Matty, then comes back, then leaves again, then thinks better of it and so on. The story aside from the immediate love story is inconsequential, including the entire subplot about the investigation where we find George’s father may have played a part in his downfall. How Do You Know runs nearly two hours long and I could have pointed out a good thirty minutes that could have been cut without losing the overall effect. One long winded scene, for instance, has George handling a video recorder while a minor character gives a sappy speech. But whoops! He forgot to turn it on, so the characters repetitively play through it all again so they can capture it on tape.

How Do You Know is one of the most uneven films of the year, boring you to sleep one moment and charming the pants off you the next. Undeterred by the cumbersome screenplay, the natural charisma of the talent shines through and by the end, I was surprised how much I had come to care about the characters, despite the irksome Lisa, who is essentially a walking proverb, always spouting off some stupid phrase. It’s not particularly funny and its contrivances almost pull it under, as is the case with most rom-coms, but the final moments of the film seal the deal. The last shot in particular, which will remain unspoiled, is utterly beautiful. Without it, my score may have dipped and How Do You Know would have missed a recommendation. That shot is the perfect ending to an imperfect film.

How Do You Know receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jul302010

Dinner for Schmucks

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

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