Friday, January 21, 2011

647 - Dinner for Schmucks review

I won’t mince words: Steve Carell is awful in this. Sporting a strange dye job and with a goofy expression plastered on his face, his character isn’t so much a schmuck as a borderline retarded charisma vacuum, an unceasing reminder that Carell wants us to know he’s trying very, very hard to be funny. Note to Carell: the only actors who can do well with letting the audience know they’re in on the joke are the ones physically incapable of playing a humorous role straight. Think Schwarzenegger.

Paul Rudd is awful in this. Getting the nebbish nice guy act down so well he could play it in his sleep, Rudd proceeds to sleepwalk through this, seemingly disinclined towards adding dimensions to his milquetoast money man or even encouraging us to sympathize. Rudd’s character, who finds himself compelled to participate in his boss’ monthly competition to see who can bring the most spectacular idiot to dinner (that’s where Carell comes in), fails to be a compelling protagonist or even an amusing one. Maybe director Jay Roach carries some blame, and certainly the dreadful script does, but a serious downside to being an actor is that they own their performances, and “Dinner for Schumcks” counts as a strike on Rudd’s record. Rudd did superlative character work in the rather enjoyable “Role Models,” but his subsequent parts have been so uninspired and blandly acted that his earned goodwill nears exhaustion.

Jemaine Clement is great in this. His performance the inverse of Carell’s, Clement’s narcissistic crackpot artist refuses to wink at the audience or pander to its tastes, approaching the absurd as if it were the ordinary. This is how screen comedy is done. Clement’s fantastic usage of terrible material ends up trumped by his status as fourth lead, meaning that the waits for an actual laugh are frequent and far between.

Casting aside, pic squanders the opportunity for real socio-political satire, which the material begs for. What we’re served is a moral about being sensitive to people’s feelings, which I agree with wholeheartedly at the grade-school level, though anyone with two digits in their age and a couple of brain cells to rub together should know better, itself a lame moral as a sophisticated opinion realizes that mockery of ridiculous behavior has its place. The same people who wrote this surely laugh uproariously at the pranked subjects of "Borat" or the unintentional ineptitude of "The Room." So here the moral's not only stupid, but even worse, disingenuous. Not everyone deserves our respect, do they?

1 out of 5

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