A tale of mice and a mensch
Carell channels Jerry Lewis in film about misunderstood man befriended for nefarious reasons
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.
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.