By Amy Nicholson
By revealing both the sad heart of the character and his brashly geeky surface, Carell delivers an audacious performance that ranks right up there as the most varied and entertaining of his career, even rivaling his Emmy-winning turn as Michael Scott on the NBC sitcom The Office.
Schmucks is based on the 1998 French comedy Le Dinner de Cons (The Dinner Game) and follows the misadventures of a corporate analyst named Tim (Paul Rudd), who yearns for a promotion that will enable him to marry his longtime live-in girlfriend and garner him a coveted executive office. Tim has a bold business proposal, which is stolen from him at a company meeting. Nevertheless, his boss Lance (an extra smarmy Bruce Greenwood) invites him to a special, secret dinner.
Tim can win the promotion if he impresses Lance and the other company execs at the dinner. But there’s a catch: He must find the biggest loser he can and bring him to the dinner as his guest. Then, Tim must have his guest unwittingly present his or her most awkward habit as if it were their greatest skill in order make the company’s top honchos laugh. If everything goes accordingly, the loser thinks they’ve won a big prize and the aspiring executive who brought them to dinner scores a great job.
Tim is appalled at the idea. His girlfriend is horrified at the thought of such a dinner and orders Tim not to go through with it. But just after he asks his secretary to tell Lance that he can’t attend, Barry steps in front of his car and the two meet, literally by accident. At that point, Tim pretends to be friendly with Barry, and Barry believes he’s made his first friend in years.
Since Barry’s biggest skill is creating “mousterpieces”—dioramas featuring dead mice that he taxidermies, clothes and places into settings based on famous paintings, including Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper— he just might win, but only if he can beat his biggest rival, Zach Galifianakis, who Barry actually works for and who has tormented him for years with his purported ability to control Barry’s mind.
It sounds hilarious, and it is. So what’s wrong with Dinner for Schmucks?
For one thing, the film’s pacing is off in some places, a fact that’s surprising given director Jay Roach was at the helm of five of the biggest comedy hits of the past 30 years with the Austin Powers trilogy and the first two Meet the Parents films.
Another problem is that the film lumbers in its first half-hour, and at other points occasionally feels like it’s trying way too hard with the wacky antics.
Yet, enough moments work—including a freakishly funny subplot involving a stalker (Lucy Punch)—to keep you laughing. And thanks largely to a good use of wistful classics like The Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill,” it is also the rare broad comedy film that manages to get its emotional moments right as well.