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MOVIE REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

Lots of good comedians, in a bad comedy

Dinner for Schmucks: Rates a D+.
Courtesy Photo

At a screening for this movie, someone associated with the studio asked if I would give them a quote about it after I saw it.

My initial thought was a two-word quote: Schmucks sucks.

I instead went with this: It was Steve Carrell’s best movie since Date Night.

I don’t want to appear like I’m some cinema scrooge, hating every comedy that comes down the pike (especially when my favorite movie of the year – The Kids Are All Right

– is a comedy).

There’s a great opening sequence that is made brilliant by the fact that we already know Carell is someone that makes dioramas with dead mice. So, seeing an elaborate one like The Beatles somber “Fool on the Hill” is great.

The introduction to Paul Rudd’s character is fine (he plays a great straight man).

Even the introduction of Rudd to Carrell isn’t so bad (the usual hitting someone with your car, and their goofy face close-up shot on the windshield).

Rudd works with a lot of guys in the office that have amazing comedic timing. Ron Livingston (Office Space), and Larry Wilmore, who always cracks me up on The Daily Show.

Nothing they do in this is funny, or even believable.

Now, if you start knocking how realistic a movie of this type is, the common response is – “It’s just a comedy. Lighten up.”

The problem is, an unrealistic comedy can be Animal House or Airplane, with a joke every second making you crack up. This has a joke every second, but it’s every 15 minutes that you actually laugh (or merely smile).

This is a lazy comedy, much the way The Grown-Ups was a few months ago.

It’s taking a bunch of funny people andhaving them throw insults at each other, as if that’s humor. That can be humorous (see Don Rickles), if you write it funny.

There’s a scene where Carrell and Rudd each have the wrong cell phone, and the various things Carrell says in his attempt to get a hold of Rudd by calling that phone – it’s great comedy. Unfortunately, there aren’t many scenes like that.

Another scene that works, has Jemaine Clement (who is brilliant on Flight of the Conchords), playing an avant garde artist. He reminded me of Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek (with sex addiction replacing drug addiction).

One of his Conchords co-stars (Kristen Schaal) pops up as an assistant to Rudd, and she’s funny.

But watching two hours (you read correctly…this thing is two hours long) of Carrell doesn’t work. That’s because, as much as we love him as the clueless boss in The Office; or as the naïve but nice guy in 40-Year-Old Virgin – those were believable characters and you could root for them. The character he plays in Schmucks has such a low IQ. You not only have a hard time laughing at his antics, you wonder how he even functions in society.

He supposedly has a job at the IRS. I can’t picture this guy working at Burger King.

Now, once we get into the IRS office (the punchline to that joke I saw coming down Broadway)…one of the funniest stand-up comedians ever, Zach Galifianakas, shows up. His scenes are all funny (it’s unfortunate the trailers gave away the fact that he was going to show up at the dinner scene at the end).

This movie could’ve been a silly little romantic comedy and worked. That would’ve taken the pressure off of being funny every second.

What it couldn’t be, and tried to be, is a buddy picture. Rudd wouldn’t have spent more than five seconds with Carrell – not only is he so dense you can’t hold a conversation with him, but he logs onto his computer and thrashes his house. How would Rudd not haul off and kick his butt at that point?

Yet, we’re supposed to believe they hang out some more after those incidents.

That’s about as believable a buddy combo as if we see another Lethal Weapon and Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are joking over coffee and donuts.

Now, when the movie finally gets to the “dinner for winners,” (as it’s called in the film) it’s actually amusing. Some physical comedy from a woman (the hysterical Octavia Spencer) who talks to animals, a ventriloquist (played by who else – Jeff Dunham), and a man with the worlds largest beard (there were no jokes about beard hair getting in the dinner).

Director Jay Roach obviously has a good eye for comedy. He gave us Austin Powers and Meet the Parents. Let’s hope he can get things back on track.

If you want to see a better oddball couple, rent Neil Simon’s Odd Couple. It came out in the late 1960s, but it holds up nicely.

If you love Galifianakas (the best part of this movie), rent one of his comedy specials.

Oh, did I mention…you could go see The Kids Are All Right? It’s still in theaters.

See that, instead of the sporadically amusing Schmucks.

I’m giving this a D+.