With such proven comedic talent as Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, you'd think a film like this would be a layup, but Dinner for Schmucks proves that there's more to comedy than throwing good talent into a room and turning on a camera. Aside from a few scenes, Dinner for Schmucks is deeply unfunny. This film features none of the charm of the original French film upon which it is based, and instead displays all of the weaknesses of a poor remake: a dreary script, acceptable but uninteresting acting, and, more disappointingly -- a lack of heart.
Tim (Rudd) is a rising financial analyst who finds himself in the midst of an odd but necessary office ritual, an elite dinner party where every guest must bring along a strange or idiotic individual to amuse the other guests. The idiots must not be aware of the reason for their attendance, and for Tim there is a large promotion riding on the outcome of the dinner. Tim runs into an "idiot" named Barry (Carell) with a perfect hobby -- creating dioramas using dead mice. Tim's girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), soon gets wind of the dinner plan and disapproves, and when Barry shows up the evening before the dinner, one awkward misunderstanding after another ensues as Tim attempts to secure his promotion and thus the love and commitment of his girlfriend.
Sadly the usually stellar cast seems unable to take the blasé script and make anything special out of it. Paul Rudd reluctantly delivers his lines with the hollow eyes of a man fully aware of the crime he is committing against hilarity. The exception is Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement, who shines as a sexually free experimental artist and provides some of the only real laughs in the film. Zach Galifianakis makes an acceptable appearance as Barry's boss, a mind-control expert who constantly cows the harmless but ineffectual Barry. Steve Carell plays the hapless Barry with only slightly less intelligence and grasp of social graces than his famous counterpart on The Office, Michael Scott. His hobby of mice taxidermy is sweet and strange, and the dioramas are in fact one of the better elements of the film, alongside the flamboyant artwork of Clement's character. At one point Barry shows a tiny Van Gogh mouse within a diorama, and I found myself thinking how nice that would look upon a shelf.
As for movie mechanics, there isn't much to distract from the dismal plot and acting in Dinner for Schmucks. The decision has been made to shoot a fairly standard comedy, but from the production design to the cinematography, there's very little of note here. Small matters such as continuity errors and lighting problems add to an air of general sloppiness.
Despite the funny moments here and there, the story ultimately reads as lifeless, with too many purposely strange characters and not enough to tie it all down and keep things on track for a big finish. One of the major problems is that of tone. At the climax of the film, the titular dinner itself, we are supposed to feel a kind of weak pity as these harmless folk are made fun of, yet also encouraged to laugh at their awkwardness ourselves. I spent much of the film cringing inwardly, and the inevitably unsurprising ending isn't enough of a reward for the price of a ticket. The marketing for the film proudly touts the fact that it was brought to you by the director of Meet The Parents, yet Dinner for Schmucks can't seem to push itself into those same levels of awkward required to truly amuse and ends up pathetically convoluted. If you've seen the trailer, then you've seen the majority of the high points in the film and your mind can fill in the blanks.