'Dinner for Schmucks' a fare comedy
Steve Carell serves some laughs, but a flavorless screenplay
with watered down writing leaves Dinner for Schmucks in the drive-thru lane.
And now that we have the food service puns out of the way, I'll say that this latest Jay Roach (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) directed comedy is a lesson in missed potential.
With an uber-talented cast and a promising premise, Dinner has all the right makings for prime comedy, but way too many could-haves.
It could have been edgy, could have been different and could have been a hell of a lot funnier. Instead, Roach and company play it safe with formula and cliche.
Dinner centers on business analyst Tim (Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man), an everyman who aspires to climb the corporate ladder to the coveted seventh floor. After pitching a winning idea to CEO Fender (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek), this seems a likely prospect.
But first, Tim must pass a test. Fender and his fellow execs "collect people," as it were, using a monthly dinner as an excuse to showcase peculiar people they've encountered and collectively make fun of them, unbeknownst to the guests of "honor."
Each executive is tasked with bringing an idiot to trump the others', the winner gaining office privileges and a trophy for their so-called guest.
Appalled by the notion, but willing to do what it takes for the promotion, Tim agrees, despite vehement disapproval from his art curator girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak, The Devil Wears Prada).
A chance encounter with the hapless but kindhearted Barry (Steve Carell, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) solidifies his decision. Barry is an IRS grunt by day and a taxidermist by hobby, collecting dead mice and arranging them in bizarre and hilarious dioramas, calling them his "Mouse-terpieces."
To Tim, Barry just might be that step on the ladder, provided Barry doesn't break it first. Barry accepts the invitation, but mistakenly shows up at Tim's the night before, and chaos ensues.
Highlights include inadvertently disclosing Tim's address to his stalker ex-fling (Lucy Punch, Hot Fuzz), a late-night visit to Barry's IRS office for a consultation with a self-proclaimed mentalist (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover), several uncomfortable encounters with a narcissistic artist (Jemaine Clement, HBO's Flight of the Conchords), and a cringe-worthy case of mistaken identity.
Dinner's less about the actual dinner than it is getting to the main event, which, for the most part is pretty darn funny, featuring a ventriloquist with a promiscuous dummy (comedian Jeff Dunham), a bandaged vulture aficionado (Patrick Fischler, Idiocracy) and a blind swordsman (Chris O'Dowd, Pirate Radio).
But it's only funny up to the point when formula rears its cliched head, causing the narrative to fall apart with a hasty conclusion that's a little too clean for comfort.
Again, Dinner has a great premise, being the remake of a 1998 French film, Le diner de cons (The Dinner Game), by Francis Veber (writer of The Bird Cage).
While I admittedly haven't seen the original, it's been praised for its wicked sense of humor, in which the protagonist is hardly likeable, thus deserving all the chaos that's wrought upon him. Rudd's Tim, on the other hand, is a likeable and genuinely good guy, making his strife more wince-inducing than laugh-inducing.
There's a feeling of missed potential that lingers throughout the movie, a general sense of "This could be better," and it's evident in Rudd's and Carell's chemistry. The two seem thrown together, an odd departure from their hilarious collaboration in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but both perform adequately with the material given. Rudd's a decent straight man, and he even strangely resembles Ben Affleck this go around, while Carell successfully makes his character's otherwise routine antics his own - unfortunately, there's just not enough to go around.
Had Roach taken a less-Hollywood approach, avoiding straight-up formula and its inherent predictability, this Dinner could have been one to remember. As it stands, it's slightly funny, but there's plenty of room for dessert.
OK, so one more food service reference.
Dinner for Schmucks, rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.