October 24, 2016
        Hollywood Contenders: New Oscar Predictions for October                Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Naomie Harris, Lily Collins get Honors at 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards                "Manchester by the Sea" leads the Gotham Award nominations                Tom Ford, Marc Platt and Kenneth Lonergan to be Honored at 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards                Tom Cruise is in his action hero comfort zone with "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back"                "Moonlight" could be A24's big Oscar horse this year                Ewan McGregor steps behind the camera with "American Pastoral"                Hollywood Contenders: A second crack at Golden Globe predictions for 2016                "The Accountant" seeks to help give Ben Affleck another blockbuster                85 countries will be competing for Best Foreign Language Feature nominations at the Oscars                Tom Hanks to receive Hollywood Actor Award for "Sully" @ Hollywood Film Awards                "Certain Women" showcases Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams                Ben Affleck is perhaps Hollywood's biggest and most diverse superstar                "The Birth of a Nation" looks to survive controversy and contend for awards                "The Girl on the Train" hopes to transport Emily Blunt to the Oscar race        

REVIEW: Saggy main course almost dooms “Dinner for Schmucks”

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Dinner for Schmucks (**1/2 out of 4 stars)

Jay Roach’s “Dinner for Schmucks” starts strong. It even ends strong. It’s that saggy, aimless middle section that might leave an unsatisfied taste in your mouth.

The cringe comedy tears out of the gate riding a stream of consistent, uproarious laughs as it establishes its premise, which Roach lifted from Francis Veber’s French comedy “Le Diner de Cons,” which he admires. Paul Rudd plays Tim, a ladder-climbing financial analyst with a gorgeous girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) and realistic dreams of graduating from his company’s sixth floor (where the minions grumble) to the seventh (where the elite rub elbows).

To get there, Tim must participate in his boss’s cruel game: Find a fool and bring him or her to dinner so the supposedly superior can chuckle at their misfortunes. Initially Tim balks, believing the practice to be, as he says, “messed up.” But the game changes once he runs, literally, into Barry (Steve Carell), a clueless dweeb with a passion for taxidermy — resulting in the film’s funniest running joke — but a lack of social aptitude or a verbal filter.

Carell’s presence usually enhances the comedic potential in a situation. Not so with “Schmucks.” The actor’s approach to Barry is so bizarre, so off-the-rails, it sufficiently separates Tim’s predicament from the tiny corner of reality it once occupied.

There is a dichotomy in “Schmucks” that bears exploring. Tim believes Barry is his ticket to a better life. Of course, the longer Tim lingers in Barry’s presence, the more destruction — both personal and physical — this senseless stranger creates.

And yet, as Barry throws out Tim’s back, scares off his girlfriend, invites a lingering stalker (Lucy Punch) into the mix, and tosses him to the IRS for an unfortunate audit, we find ourselves wondering if anyone — even someone who is supposed to be an idiot — would behave this way. Roach sets up a scene where Punch chases Carell around Rudd’s apartment. She’s obsessed with Tim, and wants to make him jealous by pretending to sexually spank Barry. Before long, she is throwing wine bottles at Barry’s head, shattering glass shelves and picture frames. Carell disrupts her amorous charge by playing dead, and Punch simply walks out. The scene works up a good deal of energy before going nowhere.

A number of scenes in “Schmucks” follow the same template, unfortunately. The promised dinner, when it finally arrives, is a feast of inspired lunacy. Carell stands up for Rudd, prompting Rudd to return the favor. Zach Galifianakis momentarily steals the spotlight from Carell as a mind-reading dinner guest. Both defer to Christopher O’Dowd, who burns the house down, literally, as a blind swordsman. It’s a satisfying end, but I wish we could have skipped a few courses to get to it sooner.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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