Judge Patrick Naugle has only been lucky enough to attend dinners for putzes.
Our review of Dinner For Schmucks, published January 5th, 2011, is also available.
It takes one to know one.
Based on the French 1998 comedy The Dinner Game, Dinner for Schmucks amassed some of today's hottest comedic talents including Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis and Jermaine Clement. To top it all off the film was directed by Jay Roach, one of the comedic co-minds behind the Austin Powers trilogy and the Ben Stiller/Robert De Niro Meet the Parents franchise. Although not the comedy classic many hoped it would be, Dinner for Schmucks is nonetheless an amusing (if slight) comedy now available on Blu-ray care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Tim (Paul Rudd, Role Models) is an up and coming executive who is about to make it to the big leagues at his firm. Tim has a beautiful girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak, The Devil Wears Prada) and a newly impressed boss, Lance (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek (2009)), who is about to make sure Tim's corporate dreams come true—if he's willing to partake in Lance's monthly dinner party, where each co-worker brings an 'idiot' as a guest so they can cruelly laugh at them behind their backs. Tim is hesitant, but a freak car accident finds his dinner partner in Barry (Steve Carell, Date Night), a lonely dud who spends his time creating artwork out of dead mice. With the pieces in place Tim sets up the dinner with Barry, only to find Barry to be a whirlwind of personal disaster who starts wrecking havoc in Tim's life. With his career and love life hanging in the balance, Tim must decide if he's going to follow through with Lance's dinner or realize what's really important.
Dinner for Schmucks's saving grace is Steve Carell. Carell has fast become one of my favorite comedic actors with his fantastic run as the boss from hell, Michael Scott, on NBC's now classic The Office and in the amusing The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Heck, I even liked the underrated and often reviled Evan Almighty. Carell has that rare ability as an actor to make uncomfortable comedy hysterical. Unlike Jim Carrey, Carell is able to play stupid and sometimes loathsome characters with heart—you actually care about the goobers he plays. Dinner for Schmucks is no different; Carell's Barry is the kind of friend that makes you want to run for the hills, yet you can't help but feeling endeared to his quirkiness. Carell's performance here is filled with little nuances (his ticks and gestures truly complete the character) that make you want to go back and watch the film a second time just to catch the little things Carell is doing.
That being said, I wish I could tell you that Dinner for Schmucks is a laugh riot from beginning to end, but it's not. It's by no means a bad movie—there were plenty of moments of finely honed humor, no less so than the final 'dinner' scene that features as assortment of oddballs and weirdoes for viewers to gawk at. Never let it be said that many of the aforementioned actors didn't commit fully to their parts. And yet there weren't enough classic moments to raise this movie to a level of sheer lunacy. If Dinner for Schmucks has a real failing it's that when the final act closes it desperately wants to tug at your heartstrings. I'm not exactly sure why comedies always feel the need to give us a soft, gentle moment at the end of their stories, especially when a film tries so hard to be so silly. Note to future filmmakers: I'm okay with walking out of a theater on a goofy high note. I don't need a movie to make me feel like I've just pet a puppy every time the credits roll.
But I digress. If you've come to Dinner for Schmucks to see a lot of, well…schmucks, then you're in luck. Carell is hysterical as Barry, a man of limited social skills (I love when he tells a Swedish couple that he "loves their army knives") who creates some spectacular scenery with road kill. Barry is like a distant cousin of Michael Scott, except that he's a dimmer bulb and sloppier dresser. Everyone's favorite left-of-center comedian Zack Galifianakis also shows up in a supporting role as Therman, the man who stole Barry's wife away (leading to the funny phrase, "I want to eat your pudding"). Galifianakis plays another variation on his Hangover character, but give the guy props—what he does, he does very well. The final dinner scene has all kinds of amusing actors performing some wonderful improv, including puppeteer comedian Jeff Dunham (who you've seen on countless Comedy Central stand-up comedy specials) as a creep with a buxom girlfriend…made of wood. Flight of the Conchords star Jermaine Clement's (also seen in last year's Gentlemen Broncos) soothing voice and creepy vibe make him an amusing foil for Tim. I just hope that Clement—who has honed a voice talent the likes of which Orson Welles would be proud—finds a better movie for his talents in the future.
Which brings us to Carell's co-star Paul Rudd. There's a reason I haven't really mentioned Rudd much, and that's because the poor guy isn't given a lot to do in this film. Actually, I take that back—Rudd is given a lot to do, it's just that A.) most of it isn't all that funny and B.) a lot of it consists of Rudd reacting to Carell's crazy antics. This is in no way a slam against Rudd's talents; I've seen the guy in a lot of good movies and when given the right material he can bring the funny. In Dinner for Schmucks he is clearly the straight man and working without a lot of clever material.
I liked Dinner for Schmucks, but didn't love it. The script had some wonderful potential to go even further with the dark comedy but Roach and company decided to reign things in and keep the proceedings light, especially in the final moments. Had Dinner for Schmucks really pushed that envelope it could have been something very special. As it stands, Dinner for Schmucks makes for a lighthearted Friday night rental and little else. Oh, but that Steve Carell…he's worth every penny of that rental fee. Guaranteed.
Dinner for Schmucks is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. This transfer is a sort of double edged sword—while Paramount has done a great job on the transfer (the colors are solid, images crisp and definition sparkling), nothing here really 'pops' off the screen. Fans of the film won't be disappointed in what they see and, conversely, also won't be overwhelmed, either.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English (and includes a Dolby 5.1 mix in Spanish, French and Brazilian Portuguese). There aren't a lot of moments here where the surround sounds are fully engaged—this is a mostly front heavy mix which is typical for most comedies that don't include the words 'ghost' or 'busters' in the title. There are some nice moments of sonic envelopment (mostly Theodore Shapiro's light and bouncy film score), but generally speaking it's mostly just a serviceable sound mix. Also included on this disc are French, Spanish, English and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles.
"The Biggest Schmucks in the World" feels like a general promotional piece for the film that includes a lot of talking head interviews with the cast and crew discussing their thoughts on the film, how fun it was to make, etc.
"The Men Behind the Mousterpieces" looks at the Chiodo brothers (who also made the cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space and produced effects for Team America) who produced the mouse dioramas for the film. There's probably more background information than you'll need on how they made the mice, but it's here if you want it.
"Meet the Winners" is a quick look at the various 'winners' (or losers in the film) at the dinner party and most of the actors do that in character. This is an amusing if trifle piece that will most likely be watched only once, if that.
Finally there are some "Schmuck Ups" (which is just a fancy way for saying "outtakes"), a few deleted scenes and a featurette called "The Decision with Paul and Steve" that has Carell and Rudd doing a funny bit on ESPN.
Dinner for Schmucks tries very hard to be both cruel (laugh at all the weirdoes…) and accepting (…but remember, they're people, too!) and comes off as a film with a personality disorder. I can recommend this movie for Steve Carell's performance, but make this a rental before committing fully to a purchase.
Dinner for Schmucks just barely escapes incarceration on the grounds of insanity.
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