Silver Screen: Dinner for Schmucks *1/2

Silver Screen: Dinner for Schmucks *1/2
Bryan Miller

There's a great idea at the heart of Dinner for Schmucks: A group of rich assholes hosts a dinner party complete with a game in which each attendee invites the guest they think will be the biggest idiot and the best fodder for mockery.

That idea has already been an excellent movie, the French comedy Le Diner de Cons, on which Dinner for Schmucks is based. But Dinner for Schmucks is not an excellent movie.

Yeah, yeah, it's a cliché to say that the subtle foreign art movie is superior to the broad American remake-- but it is, and vastly so. That's not to say, however, that the premise isn't ripe for an American remake, even a broad one. But there's broad and then there's director Jay Roach, whose previous films include the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents series, both of which started strong enough and then quickly devolved into endlessly overplayed gags that lack either the grace of good slapstick or the audacity of truly strong, offensive humor. Roach is the go-to guy for dick and fart jokes that can still air on basic cable, which is to say lame dick and fart jokes.

Paul Rudd stars as Tim, our kind-of hero, who receives his first invite to one of the dinners from his boss (Bruce Greenwood). Tim is outwardly disgusted by the notion of rounding up a bunch of social misfits for the amusement of elitist jerks, but not so much so that he won't do it. His justification: He'll do whatever it takes to get a promotion so he can make payments on his sports car and keep his art-gallery curator girlfriend in diamonds and luxury. (Art gallery curators, like writers and ad execs, are way overrepresented in American cinema.)

By chance he stumbles across-- or rather literally drives over-- Barry (Steve Carell), a divorced IRS agent and amateur taxidermist. Friendless Barry occupies most of his off-work time by making elaborate dioramas populated with stuffed mice. He's also an oblivious moron, and he's stoked to get an invite to a dinner party. He's so stoked, in fact, that he shows up at Tim's place a night early.

Most of the movie's running time is spent on Barry's disastrous effect on Tim's life-- pissing off his clients, alienating his girlfriend (the lovely, incredibly dull Stephanie Szostak), and summoning Tim's stalker ex-girlfriend (an annoying Lucy Punch). It all leads up, of course, to the climactic dinner, which is attended not only by Tim and Barry, but also Barry's goofball nemesis, Therman (Zach Galifianakis), as well as a blind fencer (Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement), a ventriloquist, a phony psychic medium, a vulture tamer, and the world-champion in the best-beard competition.

There are some laughs in Dinner for Schmucks, but they mostly come from the guest stars, notably Galifianakis and Clement. Not even the Ü ber-likeable Rudd can smarm and charm his way out of this incredibly underwritten role (his character might as well be named "Protagonist"). Carell, too, is a very funny guy who doesn't have many funny things to do. His biggest laughs come not from his lines or his overbaked doofus routine (think his character from The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, turned up to eleven) but from the incredibly creative dioramas he puts together, which are more inventive and interesting than anything else in the movie. Both leads are wasted, as are talented supporting players like The Daily Show's Larry Wilmore and Office Space's Ron Livingston and comedian Nick Kroll as the bearded man.

Dinner for Schmucks just isn't very interesting, and it drags too many talented performers into mediocrity with it.