When the best thing about a movie is its mice dioramas, it’s safe to say there’s something askew. But mice dioramas are indeed the highlight of the new comedy “Dinner for Schmucks.”
Paul Rudd stars as Tim, an ambitious executive bucking for a promotion at his firm. In order to get that promotion, he must take part in an odd ritual popular with his boss: All the top executives must attend a special dinner and bring with them a guest who will unknowingly compete for the title of “biggest idiot.”
Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is appalled that he would consider taking part in such a cruel game. Tim agrees and tries to get out of it until he runs into — literally — Barry (Steve Carell). Barry works for the IRS and for a hobby makes those adorable mice dioramas I mentioned earlier.
Barry is so earnest and incredibly clueless that he would be perfect for the dinner party. Unfortunately, he gets the date mixed up and arrives the night before at Tim’s apartment where he proceeds to completely, but unintentionally, make a mess of Tim’s life.
Based on a French farce, “Dinner for Schmucks” is mildly amusing but isn’t very filling if your hungry for belly laughs (I’m both embarrassed and strangely proud of that last sentence). Rudd and Carell make a likable odd couple, even if Carell is just playing an even more clueless and obnoxious version of his character in “The Office.”
Stupid, odd and funny aren’t synonyms and “Dinner for Schmucks” is more dumb and odd than it is funny. The movie isn’t helped by one-note performances by Zach Galifianakis as Barry’s boss who claims to have mind control powers and Jemaine Clement as an artist working with Julie. They’re both familiar, oddball characters who take up too much screen time.
You don’t need mind powers to predict how things are going to turn out. This is as predictable a comedy as comedy can be. If as much effort had been put into the plot and jokes as was put into the mice dioramas, “Dinner for Schmucks” might have been hilarious.
Did it work for me? “Dinner for Schmucks” has its moments but it’s more of a light snack than a full meal. (I think I liked the ‘hungry for belly laughs’ line better.)