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How deceptive are the first twenty minutes of Dinner for Schmucks?  Truly sneaky in the hopes they raise.  A strangely beguiling opening sequence is filled with charming dioramas of sweet-looking mice dressed in their Sunday bests, frolicking merrily amongst the miniature swings, gazebos and rowboats in a romantic park setting. 

Such darling homespun charm gives way to a far harsher reality of a man losing his job as his colleagues watch, commiserate and speculate with nearly cold-blooded detachment:  What a shame heís been fired, he shouldnít have reached so far, whoís going to be next in line for the departing manís office?  This last thought is whatís on Timís mind.  Tired of being one of the faceless sixth floor worker bees at his financial firm and for the good of a bright future with his fiancťe, the new Porsche and fancy flat that he canít quite afford, as well as for the sanity of his snarky, long-suffering secretary, Tim decides to make his move.  During a meeting where his team is relegated to the Siberia of the board room, Timís raised hand becomes a target of ridicule for the superior seventh floor alpha-males.  After impressing the head of the company with a brilliantly researched plan to acquire the staggering wealth of a European multimillionaire, the possibility that Tim will be taking that recently vacated office becomes a tenuous reality.  Of course if it was as simple as having an idea that would bring the firm boatloads of capital, everyone would be on the seventh floor and this film would be much shorter.  Instead, as a sort of hazing, each member of the seventh floor team competes in a cruel game of show and tell; attending a super-secret dinner at the bossí palatial mansion, where they will present the strangest, most bizarre oddball they can find.  The weirdoes are never told why they are there, only displayed, ridiculed and fed with the wackiest specimen of the evening winning a prize and assuring the bossí favour for his escort until the next dinner.

As this requirement goes against his better nature, Tim does all he can to get out of the dinner until he literally runs into and over Barry.  The object Barry was retrieving out of the middle of the road, causing their accident is a deceased rodent in perfect condition for his elaborate dioramas, or so he explains to Tim.  The peculiar Barry seems like an advent of divine intervention directing Tim to attend the secret ceremony despite his own better judgment and the objections of his gallery owner fiancťe, who is fending off bad behaviour of her own as a lusty megalomaniac artist stands in hot pursuit.  Unfortunately, under the pressure of possible career advancement and the thought of winning his love once and for all, Tim invites the strange little man to the dinner so that Barry and his precious ďmousterpiecesĒ may be made sport of for fun and prizes.  Taking the invitation as a sign that they are now BFFís, joined at the hip for the hereafter, Barryís invasion and annihilation of his new palĎs sane, normal existence makes for the most expensive dinner Tim ever ordered.

As I mentioned, the first twenty minutes of Dinner for Schmucks holds promise:  An acerbic tale of downtrodden drones versus sharks in a workplace drowning pool with sharp dialog and whipsmart timing.  Had the entire film stayed put and played on this theme, this movie could easily have been a winner.  It is practically the moment that Steve Carellís character Barry enters the picture and more so when he inexplicably takes over Timís life, turning it upside down in a series of truly stupid situations that the humour fades almost instantly, never to return.  

Midway through, thereís a desperately unfunny, overlong scene between Barry and his wife-stealing boss who demonstrates his ďmind controlĒ over his gullible employee, followed by a moronic battle for psychic dominance between the two making finger guns at each other around the dinner table.  Itís painful instances like these that made Dinner for Schmucks one of the worst films Iíve seen this year.  At least twice I had to be restrained from leaving the cinema out of fear of my brain bleeding out of the corners of my eyes in pain over what I was seeing.  The film reads like a more lowbrow version of 1996ís The Cable Guy; an irritating creep insinuating themselves into a random fellowís life solely to completely upend it and the guy seems incapable to getting rid of the harbinger of destruction.  Iíd be rolling in the aisle had I never heard of a restraining order, or a taser, or a bat.  

Actually, the film closest in comparison to Dinner for Schmucks is last yearís All About Steve, another alleged comedy and one of the worst movies Iíve ever seen.  Like that agony, another aspect that makes the lack of funny insufferable is though itís never stated, itís abundantly clear that Barry isnít just some oddball eccentric; everything about him reads like a Aspergerís Syndrome sufferer or a victim of autism.  His inability to know when anyone is joking around him, the lack of any social boundaries, the instantaneous glomping onto Tim as his best friend ever though they met hours ago after Tim hit him with his car, the childishness that has him inviting a stalker into Timís flat and allowing her to destroy being worthy of a mere ďuh-ohĒ isnít just Barry being Ďoff-beatí.  Lemon juice on a paper cut is a bugger giggle than this.  There is just too much that Tim endures because of hurricane Barry and too many far-fetched situations thrown at the moviegoers that are just plain dumb.  Itís a mishmash of unfunny ideas tossed in a cuisinart and meant to be swallowed by the audience based solely on the charm of our leads, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, who are normally both very funny guys.  However, the return of Richard Pryor and George Carlin from the great beyond could do nothing with this migraine-inducing garbage.

My adoration of Paul Rudd has been a deep and abiding thing since 1995ís Clueless, but after this disaster my esteem has been sorely tested.  It had better be a long time before I see him play another schlubby guy with a big moral lesson to learn by the filmís end.  He shouldíve stopped at 2009ís endlessly superior I Love You, Man and gone out and played someone like the off-the-wall Kunu from Forgetting Sarah Marshall {2008}.  Thereís nothing even Steve Carellís wealth of comedy goodness can possibly make of Barry.  Do Hollywood studios really need to be told that laughing at the mentally ill just isnít funny?  Jay Roach, the person behind the Austin Powers films (Which says nothing to me at all.) is responsible for this catastrophe and should be made to sit in a corner and watch movies that make people laugh.  Maybe one of the films he missed was the original 1998 French production this debacle was based on.  Iíve heard the name Zach Galifianakis for a while now as some rising star on the comedy scene, but Iím withholding my take on the hype because itís too unfair to judge any performance here when the entire film is so awful.  The only one who walks away unscathed is Flight of the Conchordsí Jemaine Clement as the sleazy, self-absorbed artist aiming to seduce Timís girlfriend -- and very possibly Tim.  Clement, in far too few scenes gives us a glimpse of what could have worked in the terrible movie.  Ninety minutes of dead mouse dioramas would have been better entertainment than this.

Throughout the movie, the actual gathering of losers and their guests is referred to as a ďdinner for idiots,Ē which must be Hollywood code for the meal this people behind this film intend to make out of the poor suckers who pay good box-office dough expecting laughs out of Dinner for Schmucks.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 30th, 2010




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