Dinner for Schmucks (Devil’s Advocate Review)
Dinner for Schmucks, the latest from director Jay Roach, starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, entertains the notion that people can be unintentionally entertaining, to intrinsically horrible people. Carell plays Barry, a well meaning oaf, who is “befriended” by Rudd’s overly ambitious Tim. They embark on a series of exploits, which in the end amount to little.
The film has moments of inspired lunacy, there is no doubt of that. In reality, however, that is, majority, what the film is. It is a series of funny moments that fail to coalesce into an overall, funny film. Random acts and lines are thrown out, but never manage to segue into the next moment. Many of the gags don’t reach the point of completion before the next gag starts, putting many jokes to rest without a punchline. The majority of the film is building up to the infamous dinner, which is barely given any real credence. There are laughs, most of which are small chuckles, but the items producing the laughter are disconnected from each other, giving it an episodic, sitcom type feel.
Carell and Rudd have great chemistry, as seen in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and The 40 Year Old Virgin, but here they too seem disconnected from each other. Perhaps it’s a component of the roles they were playing, but they seldom seemed like they were in the same scene together. And the moments they were interacting, they seemed distant and unnatural. If I had to speculate, I would say they were on tighter leashes working with Roach and had less opportunities to let loose and improvise dialogue. In the Judd Apatow productions the flow of the dialogue is always so natural, which comes from the ability to riff with your partner more. Without that, it’s possible that Carell and Rudd dialed it back a bit and seem a little removed from the moment.
The funny moments that comprise the film aren’t all on the backs of Carell and Rudd. The casting for this film is, in many cases, genius. Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Chris O’Dowd, and Kristen Schaal are all at the top of their game, in their respective niches. Each one brings something unique to their role and it is squandered. With the exception of Galifianakis, each one of these brilliant comedic actors is given tiny snippets of time to be funny, ultimately being underused in the film. Why get some of the funniest actors working today, and give them walk on roles?
As Devil’s Advocate I have to express my disappointment in the film as a whole. I expected a rollicking laugh-fest all throughout, but was met with tepid comedy, resulting in the occasional guffaw. Had the creators been a little more concerned with making a funny film and less with creating memorably funny scenes, they may have been met with more success.
In reality I liked the film…enough, which seems to be the theme of the summer. I enjoyed the characterizations and the zany antics. The final fifteen minutes were funny, if not a bit forced. Had the filmmakers made the same effort with the other hour and a half, the film might have been the complete package.