Dinner for Schmucks kills an awful lot of time getting around to its titular dinner. Like the French film on which it is based, The Dinner Game, it takes a leisurely gambol up to the party in which a bunch of rich, arrogant twits each bring a dolt to dinner so they can mock them.
But like a four-star dessert at the end of a hit-or-miss four-course meal, the finale is worth the wait.
Paul Rudd stars as Tim, a go-getter at his investment firm, a sixth-floor "analyst" ready to move up to the top floor, to making the deals and earning the money to pay for his Porsche and prop up his art-dealer girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak). The boss (Bruce Greenwood) might be interested. But Tim has to pass a test. He needs to meet and recruit a dope, the bigger the dope the better, for the company's monthly dinner party, the dinner for schmucks.
Tim is weighing the moral implications of this (the girlfriend doesn't approve) when — thump — he bowls over a dazzling candidate with his car. Barry, played by Steve Carell with a vacant stare and a malignant giggle, was in the street to "save" a dead mouse. He stuffs mice, dresses them up and poses them in dioramas — scenes from life, re-creations of famous paintings.
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And lest you think he's simply certifiable — he has a job, as an IRS agent. He was once married. He has mastered his cell phone.
"My password is P-A-S-S-W-O-R-D."
He also wears clip-on ties and a windbreaker, cannot pick up a social signal for the life of him, mis-remembers song lyrics and butchers the language ("I'm an eternal optometrist!").
And because Tim thinks "everything happens for a reason," it's a date. His accident victim will be his guest at dinner. But Barry shows up a day early and proceeds to wreak havoc. In a day, Tim has lost his girlfriend, had his car and apartment trashed, faces an audit by the IRS and almost loses the deal that got him the promotion in the first place.
And the dinner hasn't even been served.
Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) keeps the tone more naughty than raunchy. He doesn't fret over the film's sluggish pacing. The overlong opening credits set us up for a movie that takes its sweet time.
But, my stars and garters — the laughs. They build and build, and the small character turns by everyone from Little Britain's David Walliams (as a dorky Swiss millionaire) and Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement (as a pretentious, dim and oversexed artiste) to Octavia Spencer (as a psychic who talks to dead pets, and to the lobsters that are the main course at dinner) are an embarrassment of comic riches.
And as funny at playing the kind-of-innocent-kind-of-obnoxious game as Carell can be, wait until Zach Galifianakis shows up. The breakout star of The Hangover is the icing on this dessert cart — a demented believer in his powers of "mind control" whose delusion is fed by Barry, who thinks this guy really does control his mind.
"Demented" works for the whole movie, from its bizarro art show and performance-art stunts (featuring Clement) to the kinky ex-girlfriend (Lucy Punch, a stitch) and the vast collection of Barry's twisted little "mouseterpieces." The situations are painstakingly set up and downright painful to sit through. Enjoy, or endure the appetizers, because really, the dessert in this Dinner is what it's all about.