Go 'Schmuck' Yourself
Yabroff, Jennie, Newsweek
Byline: Jennie Yabroff
The new Steve Carell comedy is funny. If only it were also dangerous.
The movie is called dinner for Schmucks, so naturally the climax happens at a dinner. Steve Carell plays Barry, a schmo (yes, you need Joys of Yiddish to read this story) who makes dioramas featuring dead, but cute, mice. He's invited to dine by a group of self-satisfied businessmen who hold a regular contest to see who can bring along the most obnoxious dinner guest. Barry's competition for freak of the week includes a blind fencer, a ventriloquist with a dirty-mouthed puppet, and a pet psychic who communes with the spirit of the lobster entree. The scene, which was largely improvised, has the feel of a "Dueling Banjos"-style throwdown, as each actor strives to out-funny the next. It's tailor-made for Carell and his compatriots in unbridled lunacy, including costars Paul Rudd and Zach Galifinakis. The funny thing is, Schmucks is actually a remake of the French comedy The Dinner Game. Even funnier: the French version ends before the freak-show dinner can take place.
That's because, as the French version makes clear, the dinner is not the point. Schmucks is putatively about the relationship between "normal" businessman Tim (Rudd) and his freak, and tweaking our idea of which one is the actual schmuck (tagline: Takes One to Know One). But the American version is about more than just male bonding: it's a glimpse into how truly conservative our comedy has become.
Dinner for Schmucks is directed by Jay Roach, who made Meet the Parents and, along with Adam McKay, Judd Apatow, and others, specializes in comedies featuring normal, nice guys--shmoes, not schmucks--who are pushed to their limits. …