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Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks – Farce or Fail?

If you woke up in a laser tag game, you might freak out and think people were shooting at you. Once you found out the guns were fake and for fun, you’d probably calm down. “Getting” Dinner for Schmucks is probably a lot like that. It is a remake based on Francis Veber’s farce,  Le Diner de Cons. Veber is known for making movies in the farce genre and unfortunately a lot of Americans will never get that background info.

My wife and I did a little back-to-school clothes shopping last night in a very American standard sense. Then we ate hamburgers, also very American. We wanted to go on a date like American couples do and decided on a movie with Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, about as American a duo as one can imagine. Unfortunately, what followed was a farce which isn’t American at all and as a result, we were baffled by this movie.

The movie’s central character is Tim (Paul Rudd), a businessman who accepts a promotion from a twisted boss (Bruce Greenwood). His promotion requires him to attend an annual dinner where he must bring an idiot to compete with other idiots for a trophy. Tim’s idiot turns out to be Barry (Steve Carell) who works for the IRS and makes dollhouse scenes out of real dead mice. Yep, you read that right. Tim receives scorn from his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) and goes back and forth throughout the movie wondering if he is doing the right thing to appease the twisted boss. Eighty percent of the movie is a morality play between the girlfriend’s scorn of embarrassing Barry and Tim’s desire to get ahead at any cost. Did I mention it was a large percentage?

What ensues is extremely dull. I found myself breaking the cell phone rule to check the time two or three times. The last 20% of the movie is the actual schmuck dinner and that was the only section of the movie that entertained me. Unfortunately, as we reach the predictable ending, the entertainment was scarcely enough to keep me thinking about the time.

In the dinner scene, we see marginal performances by Zach Galifianakis (who plays the role of Barry’s boss Therman) and Steve Carell that really pale in comparison to their other recent work I have seen.

The situations and punchlines are so uninventive I felt like they must have come out of a Cracker Jack joke book. For example, there is an ex-girlfriend/stalker Darla (Lucy Punch) that tries to get back with Tim. Barry starts chatting with her and invites her over. The side story gets so much weirder than that I don’t need to give away any more. Basically, she is a psycho and the director Jay Roach (Borat, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) makes her actions seem perfectly acceptable to bystanders. She takes a Louisville slugger to Tim’s car while he and Barry are in it while the security guards and valets watch smugly.

This movie fails. I wanted to see a Dumb and Dumber type of comedy and instead got a vanilla, disparate version. I’ve never really seen Paul Rudd as more than a filler actor. I am surprised he’s done as much as he has in films beside huge personalities like Steve Carell and relative newcomer Jason Segel (from I Love You Man). Steve Carell has flat monologue and dialogue. His look does not match the lines. For example, he’s supposed to be an eccentric and possibly retarded man and he has a wife, a good job, and very high functioning traits. Perhaps in a farce genre, these discrepancies are unimportant. Overall, on a scale of A-F, this one gets a D-. I am still waiting to see some pure farces from France before I drop my final judgment to F.

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