Review — Dinner for Schmucks

Posted: August 3, 2010 in Film, Martin Keller, Reviews
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[Reviewed by: Martin Keller]

"I'm having a hard time describing what I'm seeing right now."

With this look at the new Steve Carell comedy that is making big bucks at the box office, we welcome brand new contributor Martin Keller!

Quirky is funny. Perhaps that’s the message of the film. Or maybe: It’s funny because it’s different. Aside from the best (and only) stuffed mouse dioramas I’ve ever seen (such as the Mousa Lisa), some funny one-liners from Steve Carell, and some quick banter between Carell, Paul Rudd, and Zach Galifianakis, this film subsists on weirdness for laughs. Rudd plays a financial analyst climbing the ladder to the proverbial and literal seventh floor of executives, in hopes that his girlfriend will accept his proposal of marriage. Rudd positions himself to reach the next floor with an exceptional pitch to the boss, but must first pass one test. His boss hosts a monthly ‘dinner for exceptional people,’ in which each guest must bring an eccentric moron to be mocked. The most ‘exceptional’ by the end of the night wins. Enter Paul Rudd’s ambition, his girlfriend’s disapproval, and Carell – the schmuck.

Throughout the rest of the film there’s Carell ruining Rudd’s life, his apartment, his car and his career. While Carell did have me laughing with his awkward comments, his lack of self-awareness and sheer stupidity, I can’t help but think that this character is Michael Scott amplified. Although I’m a fan of the The Office and I don’t think it stands a chance without Carell, I wanted something different, and it’s because I like him so much that I wanted something different. Rudd was seemingly just himself, albeit charismatic and funny. And opposite Carell’s hyperbolic Barry Speck, it worked. However, the film operates under the formula of how many strange people can we throw at the audience to keep them laughing. It just ups the ante continuously filling the screen with as many screwballs as possible, like Rudd’s psychotically obsessed stalker Darla, Galifianakis as the mind controlling enemy of Carell, and Jemaine Clement’s turn as an avant-garde, animalistic artist whose obscure, philosophical ramblings and supercharged sex drive just grew tiresome as the film went on.

The supporting cast was filled with talent that was wasted on mediocre jokes and little screen time. Ron Livingston plays against his Office Space persona as a cutthroat business exec and as Rudd’s main competition at work. Larry Wilmore, long-time Daily Show correspondent, T.V. writer, and the ethics teacher Mr. Brown on The Office is another exec with a few funny lines, but never has enough time to do much. Bruce Greenwood doesn’t stand out, but gets the job done as Rudd’s boss. It’s pretty much Carell and Rudd’s show with Galifianakis lending a big hand.

‘Schmucks’ offered little depth as far as character development and its grade school morality lesson that we shouldn’t make fun of people for being different can be gleaned from the poster for the film. The conflict between Rudd and his girlfriend as to the ethics of the dinner act only as impetus to further the plot. In the end I didn’t really care if they burst into flames or lived happily ever after. Silly comedy or not, it’s difficult to become invested in a film that doesn’t give you anyone to latch onto. Rudd is the stand-in for the audience, but his dissatisfaction with his Porsche and huge apartment and seemingly well-paying job is not endearing.

The film culminated in the titular dinner scene, where all of the executives show up with their “exceptional people,” including, but not limited to, a blind fencer, a medium who channels dead animals and Jeff Dunham. The scene climaxes in an all out battle of the minds between Carell and Galifianakis. This was the funniest scene in the film, with each of the ‘schmucks’ showing their skills, but ultimately solidified the ‘quirky is funny’ route and left me thinking that this probably won’t be funny twice: good for a night of laughs, but not much staying power. Except for the mice, you’ll never forget the mice.

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