"Dinner for Schmucks"

You know when a movie either bombs or has a hard time finding an audience and the studio still manages to find a positive quote to put on the poster? It’s usually something like Bloodandguts.com or Peter Travers from Rolling Stone but the point is, no matter how many people trash a given movie, there’s always some idiot out there who will say it’s good. Sometimes I feel like I might be that idiot. Not often, mind you. The entire purpose of this blog is to have an average dude (that’s me) write reviews for other average dudes and lady dudes (that’s you). My taste in movies is fairly well refined and usually falls in line with that of normal people, relatively speaking. Every once in a while, though, a movie comes around that is almost unanimously hated but somehow strikes a chord with me. And so it is with “Dinner for Schmucks.”

“Schmucks” involves generic businessman Tim (Paul Rudd) who takes a gamble that ends up paying off in the form of a big promotion. The only caveat that comes with this promotion, however, is a request to come to a dinner held each month for the higher ups, the purpose of which is to make fun of weirdos. (Seriously, Spell Check? “Weirdos” is totally a word.) Tim struggles with this assignment until he runs into Barry (Steve Carell), an IRS agent with a penchant for taxidermy. And by taxidermy I don’t mean the deer heads hunters display on their walls. No, I mean the staging of dead, stiff mice in real life and/or historical situations, such as the painting of the Last Supper. Yup. Tim invites Barry to the Dinner for Idiots which unwittingly opens a door for Barry to wander into his life and create total chaos.

“Schmucks” is unquestionably a stupid movie. It is also, at times, quite painful to watch. The situations that Barry routinely gets Tim into often make everyone in the audience squirm (with the notable exception of the man sitting in front of me in the theater who clearly had not seen a comedic movie since 1993). Director Jay Roach has a style all his own that screams out, “THIS IS A JAY ROACH MOVIE! THIS IS A JAY ROACH MOVIE!” This comes across so strongly in “Schmucks” that my wife, upon exiting the theater with no background on the movie, made the comment that it was, “a lot like “Meet the Parents” only harder to watch.” Bingo! I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing. When it works (like it does for much of “Meet the Parents”) it can be truly hilarious. When it doesn’t, however, the result is “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Retched. “Schmucks” doesn’t ever get firm footing in either camp. For extended periods of time it is funny if insulting to the intelligence but then it quickly shifts back to the near unbearable. Still, even as Barry digs in deeper and deeper, I found myself laughing, albeit nervous, “this could go wrong at any moment” laughter.

“Schmucks” is made entirely, however, by Carell. Just a few weeks ago I wrote about how great Carell is at making unlikeable characters likeable. He brings heart to subjects who you think might be completely irredeemable. This whole movie hangs on Carell’s performance. Barry is stupid, inept, and socially retarded. His lack of wit is astounding. And yet, you rout for the guy not because Roach desperately wants you to but because Carell forces you to appreciate the guy for what he is. Barry is a cross between Michael Scott (“The Office”) and Brick Tamland (“Anchorman”) but the combination comes across as original, again expounding upon the talent of Carell. He sets the example that no one else seems able to keep up with. I’m a huge fan of Rudd but for the first time I think we’ve discovered something he can’t do: physical comedy. Roach requires a fair amount of physical comedy from his stars and while Rudd is an insanely funny dude, this area appears to be a weakness. The rest of the characters feel a bit heavy handed and one dimensional but each have their moment, particularly “Flight of the Conchords” alum Jemaine Clement whose career was thankfully not ruined by the stench of last year’s “Gentleman Broncos”, my worst film of 2009.

Overall “Dinner for Schmucks” is a worthwhile comedy. It is not witty, smart, or especially inventive but it does the job and adds another entry to the growing list of “Things Steve Carell Does Good.” (I realize that’s not grammatically correct but “Steve Carell Does Well” rhymed so awkwardly that I had to avoid it.) In a year like 2010 that is so amazingly devoid of strong content, mindless, fun, entertainment is about all we can ask for and good enough to keep me from complaining.

Grade: B-

“Good enough to keep me from complaining” should go on the DVD cover,