Monday, August 2, 2010

Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Here's Justin's review of the weekend's top new film. I say top NEW film because Inception can't be stopped.

Fresh Leftovers
Dinner for Schmucks
is tastier than the usual

Justin Senkbile


Like any sensible mouse stuck in a corporate maze, financial something-or-other Tim (Paul Rudd) is eager to find the cheese. To do so, he has little choice but to accept an invitation to a dinner where eccentrics (thinking they're attending some lavish talent contest) are secretly mocked by their more socially sound hosts. His girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), who runs an art gallery, isn't thrilled by the idea, just as Tim isn't too fond of her latest client Kieran (Jemaine Clement), a monstrously macho painter. For each of them, these details are just unfortunate parts of paying the bills.

By chance, Tim stumbles upon the perfect dinner date: Barry (Steve Carell), an unquestionably dim IRS auditor with a large, probably unhealthy body of taxidermic artwork. But before they even make it to the party, Tim discovers Barry's uncanny ability for absent-minded meddling and destruction.
Smashed sports cars and severed fingers are the kinds of destruction we're talking about here. Director Jay Roach's Dinner for Schmucks is the sort of chaotic slapstick comedy that everyone seems to have something of a taste for, only with smarter jokes, better performances and more feeling than its contemporaries.

Not that the movie's overarching moral is anything refreshing (everyone's a winner, dorks are people too, etc). What's interesting instead is that Schmucks finds time to explore Barry with unusual sharpness. The details of his divorce and his inferiority complex in the face of his boss Therman (Zach Galifianakis) are revealed to be acutely painful. Pathetically funny, sure, but the laughter comes uneasily.


And who doesn't get a kick out of the relentless bashing of callous corporate caricatures like Tim's higher-ups (one of which is Office Space's inimitable Ron Livingston)? It's almost America's pastime these days, and in a genre comedy like this, it's a bulletproof ingredient.


Carell, whose stardom has put him in a position where he seems capable of doing everything besides surprising us, turns in what is perhaps his best performance since the early days of “The Office.” Sure, Barry is the kind of geek that Carell already excels at, but here he has added a host of wonderful little nuances and gracefully handles all the character's emotional scars mentioned above.


We can't praise Carell, though, without mentioning the other two standouts. Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”) is perfectly cast as the droll Kieran, giving Russell Brand's Aldous Snow a real run for his money as the accented, libido-crazed “artiste” of the year. And though he only has two real scenes, Galifianakis is unforgettable. Finally, he's found a big-screen role on par with the surreal brilliance of his stand-up work.


Dinner for Schmucks
is very funny, but in many ways it’s still just more of the same. Consequently, one can't help but look on it as little more than a welcome improvement on a tiresome comedic formula. In terms of the big picture of movies, it isn't incredible. Among its peers, it's one of the best comedies of the year.


Grade: B


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