The only relief comes from the supporting cast, led by Zach Galifianakis.
When considering its two stars’ prior collaborations, Dinner for Schmucks is a severe disappointment. Steve Carell and Paul Rudd were both hilarious in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and clearly have a natural onscreen chemistry and rapport. More upsetting is that Schmucks is directed by Jay Roach, who helmed the Austin Powers movies, as well as Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. Sadly, all this talent is wasted in a movie that amounts to little more than an obnoxious comedy of errors.
Truth be told, the funniest moments are shown in the trailer. Carell gives a wonderful yet wasted performance as Barry, a moronic IRS employee whose passion in life is creating dioramas with dead mice. Don’t worry, though: Barry’s a trained taxidermist, so his creepy and off-putting habit is totally safe. Barry has a run-in (literally) with Tim (Rudd), who immediately sees a golden opportunity in having Barry in his life.
You see, Tim is an analyst at a large, generically greedy financial corporation and has the opportunity to move up in the company if he can impress his boss, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood), by bringing the biggest idiot to a dinner that is held every month. Tim realizes that Barry is perfect, not only because he is dangerously stupid, but also because he is oblivious to almost every insult or put down.
The movie is merely an episodic series of mix-ups, mistaken identities and slapstick humor. Rudd is the utterly arbitrary straight man of the duo and is completely blown out of the water by Carell’s impressive performance. Carell definitely brings to mind Jim Carrey of the early ’90s in movies such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber, as the actor would totally commit to a part no matter how ridiculous it seemed. Here, Carell sheds any semblance of Michael Scott and creates an entirely new kind of moron that is both obnoxious and endearing.
The problem with Carell and Dinner for Schmucks is that audiences are past the Jim Carrey/Chris Farley fall-down-or-break-things-and-it’s-funny shtick. Watching a man destroy another man’s apartment because a crazy one-night-stand (Lucy Punch) is trying to make him jealous just isn’t funny anymore; it’s boring and derivative.
The only relief comes from the supporting cast, led by Zach Galifianakis as Therman, Barry’s arch nemesis. Galifianakis is hilarious as always because of his willingness to take a joke way too far…and then keep it going. Therman claims to be able to control Barry’s mind, and Galifianakis commits completely to the absurdity of this claim. What’s even funnier is that Barry believes it, too. Chalk it up to Galifianakis’ excellent performance.
Soon-to-be-superstar Jemaine Clement, who has a loyal and rabid fan base from his HBO show Flight of the Concords, is absolutely brilliant as Kieran, the definition of the pretentious, egotistical artist. Kieran features himself in every piece of work, and Clement makes us believe that one man can be this arrogant.| Matthew F. Newlin