Angling for a promotion, executive Tim Wagner (Rudd) agrees to bring a weirdo loser to his boss dinner for winners, where a prize is offered for the biggest oddball. Tims conflicted until he (literally) runs into Barry (Carell), a hapless tax agent wh
There's an inherent danger with appropriating movies such as Francis Veber’s much-admired comedy Le Dîner De Cons and trying to make them work for other audiences. But you’d think with Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and director Jay Roach attached, the results would be fresher -— and funnier — than what’s on the menu with Dinner For Schmucks.
Despite Rudd and Carell making every effort, and generating real chemistry, the script lets them down badly with ridiculously broad slapstick that never rings true. Barry’s (Carell) impact on Tim’s (Rudd) life is chaotic but not always entertaining, and while signposted marital woes provide Carell with some juicy fodder to invest real feeling into, the comedy is patchy at best; though Barry’s rodent creations are a strong source of laughs. Rudd, meanwhile, strains to keep Tim from looking smug and calculating, losing much of his usual everyman charm in the process. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Roach wasn’t intent on making sure we know the true meaning of friendship. While digging for a forced moral message about appreciating people for who they truly are, no matter how odd they seem, Roach deflates much of the caustic appeal. He appears to be slumming it, with little of the snap and crackle of the first Meet The Parents or Austin Powers’ all-or-nothing lunacy.
The movie’s one big switch is to show the dinner itself (Veber chose the build-up and the chaos over the big finish), and despite a wealth of comedy talent from across the spectrum (David Walliams, Kristen Schaal, US ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd), only a few of the supporting cast get room to shine. The Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement brings scary hairiness and Zen-like quality to painter Kieran Vollard, who plays a rival for Tim’s girlfriend’s (Stephanie Szostak) affections, while Zach Galifianakis is his usual loopy self as Barry’s mind-controlling (and wife-stealing) boss. Lucy Punch steals several scenes as Tim’s daffy stalker, Darla. Everyone else, especially the likes of Bruce Greenwood and Ron Livingston, are sidelined to largely reactionary roles in a real waste of decent actors.
Schmucks is better than some recent so-called comedies, but saddled with its faults and a plot that crams too much into one storyline, it suffers from a lack of focus and a painful need to deliver something that can compete with the original, a standard it never quite lives up to.
Hardly a classic given the talents of Carell, Rudd and Roach at his best. It bungles utilising plenty of talent in a lightweight comedy effort that brings little fresh to the table.