REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: David Guion & Michael Handelman
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, and Jemaine Clement

The mainstream American comedy is in trouble.  Like the America pre-economic meltdown, it’s been lulled into a state of laziness.  Audiences are being tricked into the same movie over and over again by slick, money-grubbing studio executives, not unlike those bankers and brokers.  And so here we are with Dinner for Schmucks, the latest comic swindler from the modern studio system.

At the helm, if it even matters, is director Jay Roach, who previously brought us Meet the Parents, a funny if not overwhelmingly original movie with a diverse cast that drew in a lot of different people.  With this movie, we get the inevitable pairing of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, who first worked together on the 40 Year Old Virgin.

The two guys are funny, there’s no getting around that.  However, in this movie Carell is the only one given any real comic juice for his character.  He plays Andy, a loser taken in by a semi-normal guy (almost exactly like 40 Year Old Virgin.)  The twist here is that behind the bromance of this film is a devious plot to advance the other guy’s career.  Not only do we have the Apatow-influenced male bonding, but we add the deceptive “You’ve been keeping a secret from me!” plot line found in, well, every other romantic comedy.

Instead of focusing on the balancing act of friendships and romance, a la I Love You, Man, Dinner for Schmucks decides to cast its pesky female out of the script for almost the entire movie.  The fight that would typically result in a third act grab for sentimentality is dragged out for the entire two hours.  We also get multiple phony grabs for audience sympathy in the movie’s other relationship.  It wouldn’t feel so out of place if we weren’t first goaded into laughing at the poor schmuck, and lectured for doing it.

A remake of a French movie that I don’t have to see to know is better, Dinner for Schmucks aims at being well-intentioned, which is admirable.  There are a few laughs here and there, mostly from Andy’s interactions with the sketch show-type minor characters.  Instead of forming an intriguing narrative, we’re really just watching Steve Carell hosting Saturday Night Live playing the same character in every sketch.

Mr. Carell plays a variation of this character often, the dimwit who thinks he’s glorious.  He plays it to perfection on The Office, but if he keeps this up he’s going to become the next Will Farrell.  It’ll be good for a paycheck, until audiences get sick of the one-dimensional personality cash-ins and stop going.

As far as comedies go, of course you can do worse than a bunch of semi-talented and talented people doing mediocre, safe work.  But with the terrible movie summer for 2010, adding another “could be worse” movie to the trash bin is just getting it that much closer to overflowing.

Grade: D

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

  1. Well, the mainstream American comedy at any rate. The fringe and the more indie-minded directors can work wonders. Team: America, for example.

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