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Movie ReviewsRating: 4 of 5 yaps

Dinner for Schmucks

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.

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4 Responses to “Dinner for Schmucks”

  1. David ZeBell says:

    A year from now I doubt anyone will remember this movie, not me anyway. But, I think it was well worth seeing. Funny, yet stupid and pathetic in spots, it is put together very good. Great direction and acting with a very wierd set of characters. Maybe not a must see but worth the time.

  2. Leslie Gorby says:

    I love movies that are humorous because they are so ridiculous. I agree that some movies are just a disaster or really funny and it is a very fine line between. I love Steve Carell and the previews for this movie look like how you were saying it can either be a disaster or brilliant. Many times with comedies all the really funny parts will be in the preview and that was a worry I had about the movie; it would appear funny from previews and then those would be the only laughing moments. I look forward to seeing Dinner for Schmucks after your review!

  3. Vince Curto says:

    Chris: Thanks for the response. I never questioned the meaning of the word. I, many, others and nearly all Jewish people know that it means ‘penis’ and is the height of insult commentary when used in a derogatory sense. Your comment as to why use it in the title, I maintain, is because in this instance it doesn’t carry the literal Jewish meaning when used by those outside the ‘know’ as it were, and is intended to simply mean ‘idiot’ to the movie-going public who aren’t privy to it’s literal Hebraic meaning. With all due respect I can’t figure why you didn’t just understand that to start with, and omit all your commentary as to why it’s used when there are no Jews in the movie itself. People love to use words like this all the time, and many of them have no real idea what the words they use actually mean. I’ve been an amateur student of words, language, usage etc. for many years, and it constantly amazes me how often people say things they really don’t understand, especially if they contains foreign words like this one. Regards,

  4. Hi all, thought I’d drop a comment here, even though Joe wrote the review for "Dinner for Schmucks" that appeared on The Film Yap. You can read my review here: http://captaincritic.blogspot.com/2010/07/review-dinner-for-schmucks.html

    We’ve been fielding a number of e-mails from readers in Gainesville and Ocala, where my reviews run in the respective newspapers, challenging my assertion that "schmuck" is Yiddish slang for penis.

    I thought I’d address it here, since readers apparently read the standard scroll about The Film Yap at the bottom of the review, and e-mailed the Film Yap address.

    Anyway, I did look it up before sending the review on to editors. Schmuck comes from the root word shmok (spellings vary) and literally means penis. Here’s just one source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/schmuck

    The word has come to have the colloquial meaning of jerk or idiot. Perhaps I was unclear in my review: I was not challenging the use of the word schmuck in that context, but questioning the use of a Jewish idiom when, as I said, there are no Jewish characters present, or even anyone who uses that word.

    I guess the filmmakers just thought "Dinner for Idiots" was too dull.

    Thanks for all the great feedback!