Film review: Only an idiot would see 'Dinner with Schmucks'

August 03, 2010|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

The word "schmuck" is never actually used in "Dinner for Schmucks." The characters talk of "idiots" instead, which is what the Yiddish word means.

It's disappointing that the film isn't eager to embrace a hilarious word like "schmuck". Try it yourself. Say it slowly and put a lot of emphasis on the "m." Pretty funny, right? But the film wastes the opportunity to make constant use of the word. Everything about the film is a wasted opportunity.

Paul Rudd stars as Tim Conrad, a young go-getter at a money management firm. He wants a promotion so he can marry his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak). He takes some initiative, earns the trust of an important Swiss client, and gets in good with the boss. There's still one obstacle in the way: The boss likes to hold dinner parties where executives bring unsuspecting schmucks to dinner so everyone else can laugh at their schmuckiness. If Tim can find a big enough schmuck, the promotion is his.


Thinking the whole idea is in bad taste, Tim is prepared to give up on the opportunity. But then he stumbles upon a perfect schmuck named Barry (Steve Carell). Barry is clumsy, says one stupid thing after another, and makes (surprisingly impressive) dioramas with dead mice in his spare time. Tim invites him to the dinner, which we hope the plot will get to soon since there's no point in testing their friendship when we know they're going to go to the dinner anyway.

Alas, Barry shows up at Tim's apartment a night early and ruins his life in the meantime. In a very short period of time, Barry will get Tim's apartment trashed, wreck his car, injure his back, get him audited, invite over a psychotic ex-girlfriend, endanger his job, drive Julie into the arms of another man.

And the kicker is that he acts extremely annoying the whole time and never takes the hint that he needs to leave. I guess that the joke is that we all have a friend like Barry and it's funny to laugh at someone else have to deal with someone like him. But you're having to pay money to spend time around someone like that all the same.

There is one element of the film that works extremely well, and that is with Julie's boss, Kieran (Jermaine Clement). He's a bizarre artist, eager to share his nonsensical experiences and nonexistent wisdom with anyone who wants to listen and plenty who don't. He is very much like Russell Brand's rocker character in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and I'm hopeful that he gets a spinoff as funny as this year's "Get Him to The Greek." Kieran is a tremendous schmuck, and the film doesn't even have the decency to make him a part of the dinner.

It's no surprise that the plot eventually winds its way to the dinner, but it is surprising how lame the dinner is. The other schmucks get about two lines each, and there's wasted potential in all of them. Barry's only real competition is from his coincidentally-invited boss Therman (Zach Galifianakis). Therman is convinced he has mind-control powers, mainly because Barry is convinced he has mind-control powers. Barry allows himself to be controlled, going so far as to allow Therman to steal his unhappy wife. Tim evens the playing field by convincing Barry he has powers of his own.

"Dinner for Schmucks" is likely to be seen by people who enjoy Steve Carell's work on NBC's "The Office." There are definitely parallels between Barry and Michael Scott, the most obvious being that they are both incredibly stupid. Michael works because he is an empowered schmuck affecting an entire world. Barry just bumbles from one scene to the next, adding nothing but stupid comments and an occasional accident. He is nothing more than Steve Carell acting like a schmuck.

"Dinner for Schmucks" is rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language. Its runtime is 114 minutes.

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