What ultimately surprised me about this comedy is how sweet it is underneath the prickly premise. Based on a more scathing French film called The Dinner Game (1998), this Dinner has been toned down a bit for American audiences but it still has a bit of bite.
Paul Rudd plays Tim, a mild mannered businessman trying to get a promotion at work. He has earned the promotion but is forced to deal with typical office politics in order to seal the deal. He is horrified to find out that the good old boys at the office partake in a monthly dinner party in which each man brings the biggest idiot they can find to amuse the masses. They ask Tim to join them in a few days, promising that if he can find such a person, the job is all his.
Tim wrestles with the moral dilemma he faces. He’s visibly disgusted with the whole idea, but he really, really wants the job. He has been trying to get his beautiful girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) to succumb to his marriage proposal, and he believes that if he is financially secure she’ll be more likely to take the plunge.
Ultimately, he decides not to participate, even at the cost of the promotion. However, when opportunity literally knocks on his (car) door, he reconsiders. Barry (Steve Carrell) is a pedestrian who has the misfortune of being hit by Tim’s car, and Tim quickly realizes this man may be his ticket to the promotion.
Barry is a close-talking bespectacled dolt who passes his time creating elaborate dioramas out of dead mice, lovingly dressing them in clothes, posing them in human positions and giving them tiny props to simulate famous paintings.
“Mouseterpieces,” he lovingly calls them. There is an elaborate, creative opening scene showing Barry creating his tiny world, and I have to admit, it is fascinating to watch. The set designer did a marvelous job, and it is wholly original.
A misguided Barry quickly globs onto Tim and his life, and wreaks havoc in no time. In the span of a few mere hours Tim’s life is in shambles. His girlfriend has run off with a sleazy, pretentious artist, his job is in jeopardy, and his apartment is trashed, all because he invited this irritating man into his life.
The thing is the more that Tim discovers about Barry, the more difficult it is to hate him. Barry is revealed to be an emotionally scarred, lonely man who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He always means well, he’s just a walking disaster.
Cast chemistry is the number one reason to watch this film. Comedy veterans Rudd and Carrell play off one another exceptionally well. Director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) brings a bit of slapstick physical humor to the movie. Rudd, in particular, is the victim of various pratfalls, some of which grow tiresome.
Zach Galifianakis is finally starting to win me over. He’s absolutely hilarious as a dickey-wearing IRS worker who thinks he can control people’s minds. Ron Livingston and Larry Wilmore play some of the office assholes that Tim is forced to suck up to, and Lucy Punch is an unhinged stalker from Tim’s past who keeps popping up at all the worst times.
Jemaine Clement is also terrific as the pony tailed artist who tries to steal Julie away from Tim while she is at her most vulnerable. His story line wickedly pokes fun at some of those artistic types who literally produce crap, but are fawned on by the art gallery crowd, and completely buy into their own hype.
Dinner For Schmucks is not a smart movie, but it is very funny. I laughed out loud a lot, and the movie was a lot more raunchy and raucous than the trailers would have you believe. As has been the case with too many movies this summer, the movie is just too long. Coming in at almost a full two hours, some of the gags just are drawn out Long past their welcome.
The final dinner scene is an absolute riot, though, and makes up for the lagging pacing. You wont find a more amusing group of lovable losers anywhere else.
Any fan of Rudd or Carrell will find the movie satisfying. If you have been watching these guys for a while, you know what they do, and here they do it very well. Ultimately, Dinner For Schmucks is an instantly forgettable film, but you will have a heck of a lot of fun while you are there.
Parents note: This is not a family film. It is a hard PG-13, and fairly raunchy. Leave the young ones home.