Jul 29, 2010

REVIEW: Dinner For Schmucks (dir. Roach)

"I’m not sure what you get from shifting the whole thing to the world of Los Angeles private equity, not a field that is world famous for its air of intellectual brinkmanship; or from giving the lead role to Paul Rudd, who happens to be one of the most affable, easy-going invertebrates on the planet. “That’s messed up,” he protests when he first hears about the scheme; and just in case we miss his principles the first time, here they are again: “that’s messed up” says his girlfriend Julie, who is played by French-born actress Stephanie Szostack, presumably on the principle that if you are to ransack a country’s most venerable farceur traditions you may as well grab their most winsome, button-nosed actresses while you’re at it. Once a new job is waved in front of him as bait, Rudd succumbs, thus turning the film from a story of comic deliverance visited on a snob who richly deserves it, into a story of comic deliverance visited upon someone who isn’t a snob but pretends to be one, although really — truthfully? — he should know better. Now, I am not the biggest fan of Hollywood’s insistence that everyone on screen be the proud recipient of a gleaming character arc, leading them from the error of their ways and into a well-lit, carefully irrigated world of moral beneficence, but even I could tell you that if you start introducing characters who should know better into the equation, all the fun goes out of the thing. Driving down the street one day, Tim run his Porsche into a sad sack in a windbreaker called Barry Speck (Steve Carrell) who dusts himself off — Carrell actually brushes his palms, as if getting up from press-ups — and takes the occasion to show off his collection of stuffed mice dioramas. Tim has his idiot. Or does he? Steve Carrell’s movie career has been so fitful of late that his fans have been forced into rare, retrospection, revisiting the delights of The Forty-Year-Old Virgin as the film that both minted and perfected the Carrell persona — a fortysomething late-starter with a streak of old-fashioned gallantry behind his collection of comic-book figurines. Alone amongst the current crop of comedians, he doesn’t play stupid — he’s way too quick, a venal schemer in The Office, whose fine features twitch with intelligence — so I would be fascinated to learn what thinking lay behind casting him as a stone-cold dumbkopf. Carell dons some rabbity false teeth and a pudding-bowl wig, the same worn by Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, but Carrell has not, thus far, modeled his career on the plasticine antics of Carrey, so why start now? “He’s a tornado of destruction,” says Rudd and you think: no, he’s not. Carrell is and always will be the guy standing in the path of the tornado, his hand raised and a stapler attached to his tie." — from my review of Dinner For Schmucks for Slate


  1. Rudd can play jerkball when called upon (cf. "Wet Hot American Summer"), but I'm generally in agreement about his likability quotient, not to mention what sounds like a typical gumming up the works of the "character motivation" in his latest movie. Hollywood's accused of being brainless, but sometimes I wonder if more often than not they're guilty of overthinking.

    Your thoughts on Carrell are equally perceptive, except that I don't see his Michael Scott as a "venal schemer" on "The Office." He's more like that nitwit TV host babbling about Christina Hendricks' bath.

  2. Ha!

    Re Rudd: there's a whole scene in the movie where they explain that even thought he's a nice guy, he's still going to do this. A whole scene. It's like overhearing a script meeting discussing his motivation.

    The point I was trying to get across about Carrell is that those he rarely looks people in the eye. You can see the cogs whirring. He's transparently manipulative. But he's never dumb. He's just self-deluded and self-defeating. There's some pantomime value in seeing him play dumb but I never bought the character. (I was too busy being annoyed by him.)

  3. Hey Tom, one thing that's come up in criticism in the age of the web is review aggregate sites.

    Rotten Tomatoes operates on the yay or nay mode, and I think most readers can easily discern this is a nay.

    Some people think it's important to consider the strength of the opinion. Pinpointing it can be tricky, though. Metacritic scored this review 50/100. For them, a "C" is a 50, but here you gave it a D-. Movie Review Intelligence deemed your review's rating of the movie "poor."