Review in a Hurry: Paul Rudd and Steve Carell reteam for their third outing (40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman), a remake of the French farce The Dinner Game, about a smart guy who gets in over his head with a lovable idiot. Alas, something got lost in the translation. The American version is too obvious and never really gets its hands dirty with a premise that's mean-spirited to begin with.
The Bigger Picture: While attempting to sweet-talk his girlfriend into marriage, Tim (Rudd) gets pressured by his boss to bring a special guest to a dinner party. The catch is that said guest has to be the biggest buffoon he can find. Tim wants to impress his boss, but is he willing to exploit the likable and clueless Barry (Carell)—a strange loner that he just hit with his Porsche? Tim decides, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, yes, yes he is.
While the plot is straightforward, the script, by Andy Borowitz and Ken Daurio takes the most meandering path available. Instead of a series of events that build to a climax, most of the running time is spent putting Tim and Barry (and a few other schmucks) in random situations with each scene getting bigger and more outrageous than the last...but not any funnier.
Along the way, we meet Darla (Lucy Punch) the crazed S&M gal who's obsessed with Tim, and Therman (Zach Galifianakis), a villainous IRS agent with the "power" of mind control who's Barry's nemesis. The supporting weirdoes are all exclamation points with zero setup.
Granted, even when he's playing an unlikable jerk like Tim, Rudd is charming. And Carell fleshes Barry out as a fully formed goofball. Carell has a gift for portraying characters that make others uncomfortable, but that, at the same time, viewers find endearing (Michael Scott on The Office, anyone?). Barry is not Michael Scott, but they both share a need to be admired.
Plotwise, this should be a battle pitting Barry and his fellow schmucks versus Tim's coworker bullies. But besides Barry, the schmucks are a forgettable brand of wackiness. Ditto, the bullies, like Ron Livingston, who barely registers.
There's one character that is neither snob nor slob that almost makes Schmucks worth seeing. Kieran, played hilariously by Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement, is a full-of-himself artist-of-the moment. He's basically an Aldous Snow-type (Get Him to the Greek.) With Greek still in theaters, a rip-off of such a specific dude should be distracting, but Clement commits to the role 100 percent. He's a true scene-stealer.
The cast is solid, but eventually, all those unpredictable situations gives rise to fatigue. For Schmucks, that's about halfway through the film's bloated running time.
We won't spoil the big dinner scene (which was wisely not even attempted in the French version), but it's rather ho-hum.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Barry is quite the eccentric. He has a passion for putting dead mice in dioramas to showcase the most important moments in his life. The opening of the film is like a still-life version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox (with rodents!) and is arguably the best part of the film.
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