I think I am officially over Steve Carell and I believe I may have been over him a long time ago. I was having a discussion with a friend last night about how comedians have a short shelf life before their brand of comedy begins to get old. Some are able to maintain amazing longevity (e.g. Adam Sandler and Steve Martin). The majority, however, are unable to keep their audiences very long and they eventually drift off into oblivion (or voice-over animation) (e.g. Mike Myers and Dan Aykroyd). Steve Carell falls into this latter camp. Now my assessment of his ability isn’t based on just DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS. Carell stopped being funny a long time ago in my opinion. This is merely his latest crash-and-burn effort in an already-in-progress downward career spiral.

Given director Jay Roach and the impressive cast that’s gathered for DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS, this movie is painfully unfunny. Its strange (strange in a bad way) premise is based off of a 1998 French comedy called THE DINNER GAME, which I have yet to see. Paul Rudd plays a lowly but ambitious analyst at an investment firm who dreams of moving up to the 7th floor where all the asshole executives reside. He lives beyond his means in an expensive apartment with his art gallery French girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) (who has a lisp…what the fuck is up with that?). At one meeting, he comes up with an idea for the company to get a very rich Swiss heir to invest with the company. The boss (Bruce Greenwood) is impressed with Rudd’s idea and invites him to attend an exclusive and secret dinner party at his house. The catch: Each guest has to bring along an idiot (no mimes allowed). Rudd feels kind of weird having to find an idiot and he knows its wrong, but his career ambition gets the better of him and he decides it best to attend. Rudd finds his idiot in Steve Carell, who is accidentally hit on the street by Rudd’s car. Carell is an IRS drone whose hobby is taking dead mice, stuffing them, and making art pieces out of them. The film climaxes with the dinner party, which I think surprised everyone who hasn’t seen the French original because the trailer makes it look like the dinner party forms a good chunk of the movie.

I suspected there was something wrong with DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS when Paramount/DreamWorks decided to push the release date of the movie to the end of July and to a much less competitive weekend slot. The movie can’t make up its mind on what it wants to be. Online rumors reported that early test screenings of the film received low scores because the audience felt the film crossed the line in terms of appropriateness. Apparently, audiences felt that the comedy was too mean-spirited. The studio retooled the story and made it more warm and fuzzy and what we have now is a unworkable mixture of black comedy and saccharine bullshit.

A movie like DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS needs to be a balls-out, no holds barred dark comedy that shows the depravity of people and the lengths they will go towards ridiculing other people just so they can make themselves feel more powerful. The filmmakers did seem to have gone this far, but they reeled themselves in after test screening scores came in. Understandable, but that doesn’t change the fact that the movie now blows. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Why did we have to see Paul Rudd and Steve Carell take a stand against the asshole executives and end on such a high note? Rudd’s character can be redeemed in many other ways that didn’t have to involve such a neatly packaged happy ending. He could have gone ahead and played with the corporate boys only to be denied a promotion at the end. That would have then forced him to realize what an asshole he had become, especially toward his girlfriend and Carell’s character. This is just one example, but there are other ways this film could have resolved itself without becoming cliché at the end.

If the ending were the only problem with DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS, I would have said this is a very good film and would have recommended it. Unfortunately, there are much more serious problems that plague this film. Although I didn’t mind the premise, it wasn’t a grabber either. The idea of a dinner where guests bring along an idiot sounds like a set-up for an SNL skit. It doesn’t sound very high concept and I didn’t need to know it was based off of a French film to tell you that it sounds like the kind of idea a European filmmaker would concoct. To make matters worse, one implausible setup leads to another implausible setup throughout the entire film. Nothing in this movie makes sense. [SPOILERS AHEAD] For example, the day Rudd hits him with his car and invites him to the dinner party, Carell shows up to Rudd’s apartment thinking that the dinner is that night rather than tomorrow. Rudd tells him its not and asks Carell to leave and come back tomorrow. Instead, Carell sticks around to the extreme annoyance of Rudd. Now, if that were to happen to any person in the real world, they would call the fucking cops and report a trespasser. Instead, Rudd tolerates Carell’s presence while Carell proceeds to run amok inside the apartment. There is a scene where Carell just randomly decides to get on Rudd’s computer and reply to a text message from Rudd’s psycho ex-girlfriend and invite her over. Who the fuck does that? Is that supposed to be funny? Most of the scenes feel unrealistic and there is a lot of stuff going on that feels haphazardly strung together for the sake of allowing the comic actors to be funny. There is no story really. When we finally get to the climactic dinner scene, you are in for SUCH a letdown. First, the other morons that are invited are not funny in the least bit. Furthermore, the few comedic moments between Carell and Zack Galifianakis are brief because the remainder of the dinner turns into a sort of revolt by Rudd, Carell, and the other idiots against the dinner hosts and everything becomes schmaltzy (schmucks being schmaltzy).

Unfortunately, the two unfunniest characters in the movie also happen to be the stars of the film. Paul Rudd basically channels Ben Stiller and plays the straight man to Steve Carell’s moron. Rudd typically plays the straight guy, which is fine because he’s able to give his characters quirks that nicely complement the other comic actors (e.g. I LOVE YOU, MAN). Here, Rudd isn’t interesting in any way. He’s just a typical white businessman who’s as vanilla as any random career guy off the street. There is nothing unique or weird about his character to make any sort of impression and he doesn’t have any charming or endearing qualities to make you root for him. As for Carell, what a fucking disaster! I don’t know what the hell he was trying to go for here, but whatever it was, it flounders pretty horribly. His character recites popular phrases, but screws them up or attributes them to the wrong source. That shit isn’t funny. His character purposefully does things to get Rudd in trouble (e.g. inviting Rudd’s ex-girlfriend over to Rudd’s place for no reason), but then tries to help Rudd get out of the messes he’s created. That shit isn’t funny. I felt much more sorry for his character than laugh at his jokes and I don’t think that’s the film’s intention.

Thankfully, DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS does contain some comedy that actually works. Zach Galifianakis plays Carell’s superior at the IRS. He is a self-described mind controller who has self-published a book about how you can control other people’s minds. It’s certainly an original character and its fun watching Galifianakis go to town with it. However, the best scenes and the best character are by FAR reserved for Jemaine Clement, who plays Kieran, an extreme and very vain artist whose work Rudd’s girlfriend is showcasing at her gallery. He is absolutely hilarious and he easily steals the spotlight every time he’s onscreen. I wished the movie was only about him or that he had been Rudd’s invited idiot to the dinner.

I’m not sure if DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS could have been saved from its doomed plight. It’s a shithole movie with very few entertaining bits to keep you in your seat. It lacks any sort of pacing and the majority of its jokes fall completely flat. You can tell the actors did a lot of improvising, which is a testament by how poor the script probably was. I won’t even recommend this as a rental because it wouldn’t be fair to expose you to the mediocrity that I had to pay 8 dollars to see.

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