Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dinner for Schmucks review

Property The Daily Gamecock

“Dinner for Schmucks” assembles an all-star cast of outlandish comedians portraying an all-star team of outlandish characters. Though it plays close to the vest for most of the film, only spilling into the unhinged for the final dinner game, it’s a self-assured and consistently charming piece of awkward, life-going-off-the-rails comedy.

Paul Rudd stars as Tim, a businessman dying to get ahead. In order to secure a favorable position with his boss and colleagues, Tim is asked to attend a dinner where each guest brings the “most extraordinary” person they can find. By extraordinary, they mean idiotic.
Enter Steve Carell as Barry, a loner who Tim serendipitously hits with his car. Barry is a ringer, a man so out of touch with reality he all but guarantees Tim a victory at the dinner.
That is, of course, until Barry gets the dates for the dinner confused and shows up at Tim’s apartment the night before, threatening to spiral every part of his life desperately out of control.

As director of all three “Austin Powers” films and both “Meet the Parents” films, director Jay Roach is no stranger to using established comedic talent to provoke laughs. His direction of “Dinner” may not feel as precise or as loopy as some of his previous efforts, but he does know how to bring the best out of his players, letting them burst open in sometimes surprising and effective touches.

This is especially true of Carell, who is nothing but inspired as Barry, certainly the most complicated role in the production. As the central “schmuck,” Carell bears being the butt of most of the movie’s jokes, yet the shamelessly innocent way he plays Barry creates a sympathetic (and eventually empathetic) buffer: he’s a fool we can admire for his detachment, as opposed to ridicule.

With a dopey grin that jets his front teeth over his lower lip and a series of facial contortions and speech patterns that should be frustrating but always feel effortless, it’s a real showcase for Carell’s instinctive ability to burrow inside insecure characters.

Paul Rudd plays the kind of tight-laced man he so perfectly embodied in 2009’s “I Love You Man.” Rudd and Carell, opposites before in “Anchorman” and “40-Year-Old Virgin,” have a tangible rapport that lets the awkwardness of their interactions feel organic, creating plenty of room for subtle flourishes to slide in.

The film is best in its first hour, when the comedy stays squarely between Rudd and Carell, turning them into an odd couple trying to sort through Tim’s relationship problems. This may be due to the fact that this half strongly borrows from French film “Le diner de cons,” which served as inspiration to screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman.

The final hour turns into an ensemble piece, as the dinner party makes room for supporting actors like Zach Galifianakis as a man who claims he has mind control power,Ron Livingston and Larry Wilmore as Tim’s business associates. There’s also a delicious performance from “Flight of the Conchords” star Jemaine Clement as a contemporary artist. Clement sends a bolt of eccentricity through every scene he’s featured in.

“Dinner for Schmucks” is a breezy, three-course affair that satisfies without stuffing theappetite. While far from innovating the “night of chaos” template many recent comedies have chosen, it still offers plenty of awkward space for its giddy ensemble to turn themselves into schmucks.

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