Dinner for Schmucks

Where Is Brian Fantana When You Need Him?


Starring: Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd

By Robert Patrick

Oh the nausea, permeating out of every pore of this critic’s body, when he saw “Dinner for Schmucks.” Steve Carrell’s dumbfounded vacuousness is puffed up to the point of unbridled, unreasonable zaniness. Imagine Michael Scott, from The Office, but with a lobotomy – that’s pretty much Carrell’s character in director Jay Roach’s newest movie. The snarky-giggles are still there, punctuated by Carrell’s trademark facial tics, but the situational humor is about as hilarious as a biblical crucifixion.

Barry (Steve Carrell) is basically a bumbling, naïve man-child whose primary hobby is taxidermy; it’s not necessarily the same type of taxidermy enjoyed by Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” but it’s just as inspired. Barry props up dead mice, dresses them up to look exactly like the stop-motion creatures from last year’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” then, with the patience of a man editing the first edition of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” creates dioramas to place the fashionable rodents on. Yeah, Carrell’s character, much like in “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” has a hobby that would pigeonhole him as a weirdo incapable of social acceptance.

Meanwhile, Paul Rudd, whose essentially embodying the same character from “I Love You, Man,” is playing Tim, a generic protagonist who wants to get ahead in his job. Rudd is playing it straight, looking bewildered and stiff as hardened adobe. You see, Tim is essentially a good guy, willing to make some morally unsound decisions when necessary, to get ahead in the dog-eat-dog world of high-pressure business. Against his will, our hero is forced to take an eccentric person to a dinner, hosted by his boss, for the sole purpose of upper management making fun of the oddball guest in question (hence the “Dinner for Schmucks” moniker). Tim, as any predictable central character would, agrees to these bombastic rules.

Of course, within a matter of minutes, Tim runs into the abominable Barry; the snorting, being met by indiscriminate spit-bubbles, waves a saliva soaked flag that Barry is the “idiot” that Tim needs to make his bosses happy at the dinner. The rest of the movie revolves around Steve Carrell embarrassing Paul Rudd, sort of like Jason Segal in, if I may mention this obvious reference again, “I Love You, Man.” Barry strives to do the right thing, and Tim’s life sputters to an awkward stop – this is the kind of ho-hum comedy that is written by teenagers who want to scribble down fan-fiction about every Judd Apatow movie they’ve ever seen.

There is also a ridiculously distracting character that, when looked upon for only a moment, bares an uncanny resemblance to Russell Brand. Here, Aldous Snow, renamed Kieren, is played by Jemaine Clement. This whole situation is like an alternate universe where Brand, the stringy-haired impresario of “Get Him to the Greek,” rips through the pages of another film only to be reconstructed by Jemaine of “Flight of the Conchords.” We’ve seen this slinky, worriless character before; buoyantly floating his wrists across the screen, making sensually-overcharged diatribes that seem like a cross between poet E.E. Cummings and celebrity therapist Joyce Brothers, all while enunciating in his plucky accent.

I’m also exhausted from watching Paul Rudd play in these movies where, due to his own good-natured negligence, he loses his significant other. Didn’t we see this in “40 Year Old Virgin,” “I Love You, Man,” “Role Models,“ and now “Dinner for Schmucks”? Give me Brian Fantana, I beg of you! These “woe-is-me, my life needs to be ruined and then reassembled in a timely fashion” plotlines are making me devastated.

And Steve Carrell, for whatever reason, is playing Eddie Murphy’s character from “Bowfinger.” Sadly enough, he even borrows the sappy glasses, buck-teethed look from Jerry Lewis’ “The Nutty Professor” – I say borrows, because this is nowhere even as good. Carrell continuously clips Rudd’s wings, while he bounces off the walls and acts like the Roadrunner from those Looney Tunes shorts. The entire thing is so exhausting, especially when Carrell begins to act like Rik Mayall from “Drop Dead Fred.”

I suppose you may like this humor if regurgitated sequences of studio comedies are your fancy. I just don’t imagine anyone finding a two-hour long running joke about dead mice to be that funny, unless you’re Tom from those Tom and Jerry cartoons.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *