July 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Tom Long Film Review: 'Dinner for Schmucks' -- GRADE: B

Review: 'Dinner for Schmucks' is a farce of a feast

Tom Long reviews 'Dinner for Schmucks'
Tom Long reviews 'Dinner for Schmucks': Tom Lonre reviews 'Dinner for Schmucks'

"Dinner for Schmucks" is pure, tasteless slapstick silliness with little on its mind beyond cheap yuks.

And it gets those yuks, even if it does go on a bit too long. Based on the French film "Le Diner de Cons," the movie revels in idiocy and quick one-liners, as well as a certain sense of meanness that stays just this side of funny.

Remember, the French idolize Jerry Lewis, a fact that is very relevant here. Fifty years ago this would have been a perfect vehicle for the rubber-limbed Lewis, who specialized in playing imbeciles.

Luckily, here in the 21st century there are still plenty of imbeciles, and Steve Carell is completely capable of channeling the stupidity needed for "Schmucks."

Playing the straight man to Carell's fool is Paul Rudd as Tim.

Tim is on the verge of a major raise at work when the company's big boss invites him to a special dinner: It turns out that the company's top honchos meet once a month to dine with the dumbest people they can find, so they can ridicule them. Tim is told he has to find a schmuck to bring to dinner.

Tim is appalled by the idea, but he wants to get the promotion and impress his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak). And it seems like fate is on his side when he suddenly (and literally) runs into Barry (Carell), a doofus who collects dead mice and then dresses them up in costumes, placing them in idyllic dioramas.

Barry is so imperfect that he's perfect for Tim's needs. He's the sort of guy who calls the "fetal" position the "fecal" position. But after being invited to dinner, Barry decides he should bond with Tim.

Within minutes of showing up at Tim's apartment, he has driven the girlfriend away, allowed a ferocious stalker (Lucy Punch, crazy sexy brilliant) in to destroy the place and knocked Tim's back out of whack.

The rest of the movie rides on the idea of Barry being a walking disaster. Everything Tim does right, Barry manages to make wrong, with Barry always having the best of intentions and the dimmest of insights.

A lot depends on the over-the-top characters here, and they are well-played. Along with the electric Punch, there's Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover") as an IRS co-worker of Barry's who believes he can control minds and Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords") as a preposterously self-involved artist.

When the dinner finally comes together, you've also got a blind swordsman, a woman who talks to dead animals, a ventriloquist and a guy with a pet vulture.

Craziness, as you might expect, ensues.

In essence, "Schmucks" is a mixture of classic madcap, character-driven farce with the cringe comic aesthetic of today.

Directed by Jay Roach with a lot of the same helter-skelter joke-attack energy he brought to the "Austin Powers" movies, it bowls you over with sheer silliness and then keeps tickling. Somewhere before the dinner scene it loses a bit of energy, but once the meal is served the film zaps back into shape.

Will you ponder the meaning of "Dinner for Schmucks" over late-night espressos? Not a chance. Will you laugh out loud at times while it's playing? Pretty good chance. Mission accomplished.

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Steve Carell in "Dinner for Schmucks" / Paramount