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Dinner for Schmucks (6/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 110 minutes.

Not for children.

Tim (Paul Rudd) is an upwardly mobile mid-level corporate executive who is invited to the Dinner by the CEO Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood). Tim views this as his big chance for advancement. He literally (in his car) runs into Barry (Steve Carell), who works for the IRS, but is also a taxidermist. Barry is a naïf who makes puppets out of dead rats. Tim can’t get rid of him and he causes Tim inordinate problems, especially with Tim’s gorgeous girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak). The movie is basically about Tim trying to get Julie back after Barry screws everything up after which Julie bolts due to two things: Barry’s interference, and her disappointment that Tim would even consider attending the dinner. Naturally, Tim brings Barry to the dinner as his “schmuck.”

This wasn’t as bad as I imagined, but hell probably isn’t as hot as I imagine, either. Based on the 1998 French film Le Diner de Cons, written and directed by Francis Veber, it starts off with two strikes against it. As most people probably know by now, a “schmuck” is Yiddish for the male member. This is so widely known that it is inappropriate for a movie title. Would anybody entitle a movie “Dinner for Dicks” or any other crude name for the male member? A much more appropriate name, and one that wouldn’t descend into crudity, would be Dinner for Schlemiels. Schlemiel is Yiddish for a dummy; someone who is taken advantage of, a born loser, which is the idea director/producer Jay Roach is trying to get across. But Roach is responsible for films like Borat (2006) and Bruno (2009), two films that were made with the intention of being as offensive as possible. So it’s not surprising that, given the choice of something offensive and something that wouldn’t offend, Roach would choose the former.

Second, it’s victimized by yet another horrible trailer. When I saw the trailer I shuddered, realizing I would probably have to sit through something that looked that awful. The trailer concentrates on the dinner that corporate bigwigs host to poke fun at people who fit their idea of being a schlemiel. This is not the main theme of the movie, however. The dinner is just the vehicle for the dénouement, and takes up only about 15 minutes of the run time.

There’s even a sharp-breaking curve heading towards the plate representing strike three. That curve is the presence of annoying professional laughers at the screening I attended. As usual the laughers diminished the movie. There is little more annoying than to be sitting near someone who laughs at almost every line, even if it’s not intended to be humorous.

These two strikes are too bad because the movie actually has a fairly nice story and sensitive moral, even if Carell’s character is over the top. While Rudd, Carell, Greenwood, and the others give very good performances, and Szostak brings a lot more than her stunning beauty to the film, the most entertaining performance is by Jermaine Clement, who plays Kieran, a bizarre photographer. The screen lit up whenever Clement was on screen.

July 28, 2010