Dinner For Schmucks seems promising upon first glance. It invites us to a meal with some very talented comedians and it looks to be an entertaining experience. Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Zach Galifianakis and Jermaine Clement make up what is one of the strongest ensembles for a comedy that I’ve seen in a while. With Jay Roach, the man responsible for Austin Powers and Meet The Parents behind the camera, Dinner For Schmucks did have potential. Unfortunately when it comes down to it, the film teases us with a satisfying appetizer but just isn’t able to deliver on the main course.
The premise, simple, yet undeniably cruel, is based on the 1998 French film The Dinner Game. It revolves around Paul Rudd’s character Tim who works at a private equity firm and is eager to climb the corporate ladder. When he finally gets his chance to move up, he learns that his boss Fender (Bruce Greenwood) hosts a special dinner each month. Everyone invited to the dinner must bring along an ‘idiot’ to make fun of. At the end of the night Fender and his callous business partners award a prize to the person that turns out to be the biggest idiot.
Tim is eager to impress his boss and so he accepts the dinner invitation. At first uneasy with the idea, Tim decides he has to do it if he wants to get promoted and so he sets out to find his idiot. This doesn’t sit well with his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak). She points out the sickening nature of the dinner and although Tim sees her point he still decides to go ahead with it.
Enter Barry (Steve Carell). An IRS employee who enjoys creating mice dioramas in his spare time, Barry is perfect for Tim’s dinner. He’s a dweeb, naive, far from the sharpest tool in the shed and of course he’s a complete schmuck. Tim thinks he has found his guest but Barry is more than he bargained for. As Barry enters Tim’s life, his complete stupidity and lack of common sense starts to tear Tim’s life apart. As Tim says, “he’s a tornado of destruction”. As the film builds up to the dinner, and we watch the relationship between Tim and Barry grow, we start to wonder who’s the bigger schmuck, Tim or Barry?
As mentioned earlier, the cast is great. Everyone involved does a good job but Carell steals the show as the bumbling idiot Barry. He mixes Andy Sitzer from The 40 Year Old Virgin with Michael Scott from The Office and he creates a pretty entertaining character. Fitted with a toupee, a windbreaker, clip on ties and buck teeth, Barry is definitely an odd guy. Carell plays him with enough innocence and naivety so that even when we’re laughing at him we do call into question our own moral compass. Should we really be laughing at him or should we feel bad for him?
The film’s funniest moments are all due to Carell and he does a good job of evoking laughs. Other highlights in the cast include Zach Galifianakis who plays Barry’s boss Thurman. Thurman believes he can read minds and is just as big of a schmuck as Barry is. Jermaine Clement is also great in his role as Kieran, a wacky artist that has an obsession with animals which borders on bestiality.
While the cast is funny enough, the fault really lies in the director and writers. Roach and his writers David Guion and Michael Handelman simply take a lot of the humor too far. Admittedly there are a few truly funny moments but most of the material is far too silly to actually elicit genuine laughter. Simply put, I found myself just shaking my head at a lot of the gags. The climax of the film, the actual dinner, plays out like an awkward audition for a circus and it’s one of the messiest scenes I’ve seen in a long time.
Continuity errors and plot inconsistencies plague this haphazard mess of a film. The writing is pretty messy. Too many things are pushed forward by coincidence and there are quite a few plot points that just have no logic behind them.
When it comes down to it, a lot of the film is just far too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Roach and company brashly take us through the film and heavy handedly lay down these jokes and gags that really just insult our intelligence. It seems as if the writers are trying to come up with the stupidest things they can think of and it all builds up to the point where it becomes almost self indulgent.
For some reason Roach feels as if he needs to hammer home the obviousness of every situation and and it makes for some uncomfortable moments. He has also chosen to implement a romantic subplot between Tim and Stephanie that feels clumsy and awkward at best and oozes with cheesiness. He relies on ineffective musical cues to bring out the emotional depth that this film clearly doesn’t have. The entirely predictable plot doesn’t help keep you engaged either and as the film gets weirder and weirder you simply can’t help but to wonder why you’re still sitting there.
The ill contrived set pieces that are trying to be passed off as comedy feel excessive and by the time we get to the actual dinner, the film has long overstayed its welcome. Cut from over 900,000 feet of film, there are bound to be some truly funny moments, and there are, but there just aren’t enough. Most of the movie is just painful to sit through and Dinner For Schmucks comes off as a poorly made film. It’s a complete hodgepodge of jokes missing their marks and impossible coincidences pushing forward the plot.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems I had with the film is that it is so blatantly hypocritical. It strings us along for the majority of the film, asking us to laugh at Barry’s stupidity. When it comes to the end though, the movie gives us a slap on the wrist for doing so and makes us feel bad about it.
Although it is never directly stated, the signs of behaviour that Barry exhibits lead me to believe that he may be autistic. You’re supposed to be laughing at the stuff he is doing but it’s somewhat unsettling knowing that you’re laughing at the misfortune of others. No one wants to be laughing at mentally disabled people but that’s exactly what Dinner For Schmucks is asking you to do.
Lastly, another reason why the film didn’t work is because one of the biggest gags falls flat. These mouse dioramas that Barry crafts are supposed to be a big joke and we’re supposed to laugh at them, but in reality, they are built so well that I simply can’t see why everyone in the movie finds them funny. The level of detail and the work that went into them is tremendous and if anything Barry should be applauded for making them, he shouldn’t be made fun of.
Overall, Dinner For Schmucks amounts to nothing more than an overzealous attempt to create humour in a situation that really isn’t that funny and if anything is downright cruel. Throw in an unnecessary reference to The Shining, the overuse of The Beatles song ‘Fool On The Hill’ and some extremely unfunny scenes and you get a movie that really doesn’t offer much. The strong performances and small handful of really funny scenes aren’t enough to save it and in the end, Dinner For Schmucks is a movie that is destined to leave its guests unsatisfied.
Dinner For Schmucks seems promising at first but too many plot points feel forced and the humor is too dumb to enjoy.