Tim (Paul Rudd), an ambitious executive, learns about a secret dinner his bosses arrange where they invite oddballs to ridicule them. Tim sees his chance to earn a place with them when he meets Barry (Steve Carell), a meek fellow who taxidermies dead mice and uses them for portraits and dioramas.

Everyone knows that the funny man of a double act is supposed to be funnier than the straight man. In Dinner for Schmucks, Rudd is one of the most sympathetic straight men I've seen in recent comedies. His physical and verbal reactions to the absurdity surrounding him are some of the movie’s funniest moments, but they work to little avail. Despite the efforts of Rudd and the amusing supporting cast (Jermain Clement is a hoot as an earthy and eccentric artist), the film is weighted down by the overbearing presence of Carell as Barry. So much of the film is spent pitting Tim’s rationality against Barry’s naiveté that the truly funny material is not given enough exposure (one might forget about the dinner subplot if the characters did not continually mention it).

Both the character and Carell’s performance are largely obnoxious and partially endearing. To paraphrase a line from Futurama, Barry’s awkward brand of humor is the type where you wish he would end his stories a sentence earlier. Carell's delivery of this material seems forced and emphatic. That’s not to say the character is unbearable. The moments of compassion towards him are performed affectingly, even if some of them feel shoehorned. Still, Barry would have been more likable if played in a lower key (John Candy would have been perfect) and with less panache.


Post a Comment