By Dave Campbell | July 30, 2010
Director: Jay Roach
Writers: David Guion, Michael Handelman, Francis Veber (Source Material)
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Stephanie Szostak, Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis, Larry Wilmore, Jeff Dunham, Andrea Savage, Kristen Schaal, Ron Livingston, Bruce Greenwood
Based on the 1998 French film The Dinner Game (Le Dîner de Cons), Dinner for Schmucks follows the story of Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd); a rising executive in a venture capital firm itching to move up to the next floor. Tim wants to impress his art curating girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), who is currently running the show for artist Kieran Vollard (Jemaine Clement), so she will finally agree to marry him after his countless attempts.
After impressing the C level execs. during an important board meeting, Tim’s boss Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood) invites him to join his monthly executive dinner party called “Dinner for Winners” along with yes men colleagues Williams (Larry Wilmore) and Caldwell (Ron Livingston).
The idea of this dinner, is that every executive must bring a random eccentric loser for them to sarcastically encourage and secretly make fun of. Ultimately they will award a trophy to the biggest winner (loser), and the executive who brought them will be commended. “Coincidentally”, Tim literally runs into IRS worker Barry Speck (Steve Carell) with his silver Porsche while Barry is in the middle of the street picking up a dead mouse. The reason for Barry’s dead mouse salvage mission, is that he artistically crafts elaborate dioramas featuring fully clothed mice reenacting the actions of humans (think mouse doll-house). It seems as if Tim has found his dinner guest, and over the next few days Barry will take Tim’s life on a roller coaster of both personal destruction and reward.
Steve Carell is a master at annoyingly awesome yet lovable outsiders who can’t seem to “fit in” socially in some way or another. Carell does a great job of fully developing his comedic characters, and drives the role of Barry Speck with as much enthusiasm and substance as the clueless walking HR violation of Michael Scott in The Office. Paul Rudd as Tim Conrad, is pretty much the same standard Paul Rudd character that was in I Love You, Man and Role Models, who has done something to jeopardize his relationship, and must change his ways to rekindle the flame. Honestly though, it’s somewhat forgivable because Rudd still manages to pull off the strait man, dead pan part with his glowing charm and snippy sarcasm. The two major bonuses to Dinner for Schmucks fall in the hands of subplot supporters Jemaine Clement and Zach Galifianakis who completely steal each of their scenes. Their brand of character comedy is greatly welcomed to the storyline and they both share excellent comedic screen chemistry with Carell and Rudd.
This is a positive step back up for director Jay Roach in my opinion. Though I was, and remain a fan of both Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, the sequels (also directed by Roach) left me unamused. In a year of strong indie comedies like Cyrus, and bad theater filler like Grown Ups, I entered Dinner for Schmucks with lacking expectations. Luckily, I was presented with a rather enjoyable mainstream summer comedy with undertones of indie street cred. that manages to lack the expiring freshness of the reining Apatow machine (yeah I said it). All said and done . . . Jay Roach and team served up a better than average meal with a menu of choice cuts that make it worth showing up for dinner.