A tale of mice and a men­sch

Carell chan­nels Jerry Lewis in film about mis­un­der­stood man be­friended for ne­far­i­ous rea­sons

Austin American-Statesman - - MOVIES & LIFE - By Charles Ealy

Many peo­ple prob­a­bly are won­der­ing: Does “Din­ner for Schmucks” have enough yuks? The an­swer is a qual­i­fied yes. Steve Carell plays Barry, a lonely IRS worker who has an un­usual hobby: tak­ing dead mice and giv­ing them new life as dressed-up char­ac­ters in his home­made dio­ra­mas. The movie’s open­ing scenes, in fact, de­tail the cre­ation of Barry’s so-called mouse-ter­pieces — the tiny out­fits, the tinier eye­glasses and the metic­u­lous sets through which the mice can be moved.

Like most good come­dies, how­ever, “Din­ner” has a sad side. Barry thinks he has found a new friend when he meets Tim (Paul Rudd) dur­ing a traf­fic ac­ci­dent. But in re­al­ity, Tim thinks Barry is such a dolt that he can be used to win a cruel of­fice game: Find the biggest id­iot pos­si­ble and bring him or her to a din­ner party

Con­tin­ued from D1 for a se­cret com­pe­ti­tion. A pro­mo­tion is rid­ing on the out­come.

Tim’s girl­friend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), right­fully thinks the game is ob­nox­ious. And when Barry be­gins to in­sert him­self into Tim’s pri­vate life dur­ing the days lead­ing up to the big din­ner, the en­su­ing an­tics add up to “The Odd Cou­ple” on steroids.

“Din­ner” starts to drag in the sec­ond act, when Tim learns about Barry’s past, par­tic­u­larly a failed ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship. Tim also dis­cov­ers that Barry is be­ing bul­lied at work by Ther­man (Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis), who be­lieves he can con­trol Barry’s thoughts. More im­por­tantly, Barry be­lieves it, too.

The need for such de­tail is im­por­tant to the story devel­op­ment — and to Tim’s re­al­iza­tion that Barry is an in­no­cent who’s get­ting a raw deal in life. But di­rec­tor Jay Roach in­tro­duces so many sec­ondary char­ac­ters in the first two acts that it’s hard for the au­di­ence to de­cide who is worth re­mem­ber­ing. Part of the prob­lem lies with the script by David Guion and Michael Han­del­man, who adapted Francis Ve­ber’s screen­play for the French movie, “Le Dîner de Cons.”

Be­fore the big din­ner, for in­stance, sev­eral scenes fo­cus on a wild, self-pro­mot­ing and ques­tion­able artist (Je­maine Cle­ment), who is try­ing to steal Julie away from Tim. The scenes are amus­ing but com­pletely un­nec­es­sary to the main story.

Still, Roach knows how to save the best for last. “Din­ner” delivers in a big way when the guests as­sem­ble for the in­fa­mous com­pe­ti­tion at the boss’ man­sion. The guests in­clude a ven­tril­o­quist, a blind swords­man, a pet psy­chic and var­i­ous other odd­balls whom Barry sees as bril­liant but ev­ery­one else thinks are losers.

Comic may­hem en­sues, and the real losers turn out to be those who en­gage in cru­elty.

Rudd man­ages to make Tim re­deemable, much like Jack Lem­mon in “The Apart­ment,” who suf­fers through sim­i­lar hu­mil­i­a­tions while try­ing to get ahead in of­fice pol­i­tics. And Carell, chan­nel­ing Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis, right, with Christo­pher O’Dowd, plays the co-worker who bul­lies Steve Carell’s Barry in ‘Din­ner for Schmucks.’ Jerry Lewis, brings the req­ui­site goofi­ness to the char­ac­ter of Barry.

For many, “Din­ner” will be a tasty sum­mer respite. But it’s not real nutrition. It’s an ad­e­quately baked con­fec­tion.

Rat­ing: PG-13 for crude con­tent, sex­ual- ity, par­tial nu­dity, lan­guage. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 54 min­utes. The­aters: Alamo Lake Creek, Alamo Ritz, Barton Creek, Cine­mark Cedar Park, Cine­mark Gal­le­ria, Cine­mark Round Rock, Cine­mark South­park Mead­ows, Gate­way, High­land, Starplex, Tin­sel­town Pflugerville, Tin­sel­town South, West­gate.

Merie Weis­miller Wal­lace

Tim (Paul Rudd, left) be­friends Barry (Steve Carell) so he can take him to an of­fice din­ner party in which cowork­ers com­pete to see who can bring the biggest id­iot.

Merie Weis­miller Wal­lace

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