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Dinner for Schmucks

by on July 29, 2010
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As the credits rolled on “Dinner for Schmucks,” I looked over at a friend and said “That was either a complete disaster or brilliant. I’m not sure which.”

After ruminating for a day or two, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, a conclusion I came to when I found myself inexplicably quoting the movie with the same friend on Facebook. Back and forth we went, my amusement betraying the film snob within me with each post.

“Schmucks” is based on the sorts of contrivances on which director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents”) has feasted over the years. Paul Rudd stars as Tim, who, found that getting a promotion isn’t as easy as bringing a novel idea to a staff meeting.

No, he has to pass the final test: come to his boss’s (Bruce Greenwood, as assbaggy here as he was fatherly and inspiring in “Star Trek”) house for a special dinner for “extraordinary” people. Of course by “extraordinary” he means “complete idiots,” and the goal for the evening is for the execs to have laughs at these poor bastards’ expenses.

Tim seems slightly put off by this development, but sees dollar signs when he literally runs into (and almost over) Barry (Steve Carell), who might just be the king of these “extraordinary” people. He certainly fits all of the requirements: his hobby is taxidermy with a twist in that he dresses up stuffed mice in costumes and creates dioramas based on works of fine art (“Mousterpieces,” he calls them). He also appears to be none too bright.

The setup is implausible, yes, and there’s a romance subplot between Tim and his girlfriend Julie (Stephane Szostak) that doesn’t quite work, despite the presence of Jemaine Clement (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), who plays a less-grating variation on Russell Brand’s character from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

When the film is off it’s off. Barry is comically stupid, and if you forgive my comparison to two of Steve Carell’s most famous characters, he’s playing sort of a combination between Michael Scott and Brick Tamland. He’s incredibly stupid, but selectively so, and at times it grows tiresome to suspend disbelief that someone is in fact this incredibly vapid.

He’s someone who is completely good-intentioned, even sweet, but his efforts invariably lead to a tornado of destruction. Not just in the sense of being maddening, but literally destroying everything around him.

A sequence where Barry unwittingly tips off a psychotic stalker (Lucy Punch, looking like she stepped out of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”) to Tim’s location drags on too long, and is revisited later in a funnier scene that still feels a bit repetitive.

But when “Schmucks” is on, it’s Right On. The dinner itself is a raucous affair full of ventriloquists, vulture tamers, pet psychics, and a guy with a rather unique beard, among others.

There’s also one sequence with Galafianakis that is an extraordinary piece of comedy where his face turns red, then back to normal. I’m still trying to figure out how he did it.

As I mentioned before, “Schmucks” is imminently quotable, its often funny as hell, and is, regardless of its flaws, a fun, lighthearted good time that tells a simple, enjoyable story. It’s a solid summer comedy recommendation.