Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Movie For Schmucks

Yesterday I woke up with the firm belief that Steve Carrell should be in every movie.

I even wrote it in a brief review of "Despicable Me" that I posted on Rotten Tomatoes. I wrote it should be required that Steve Carrell appear in every movie, or at least every comedy, from this point forward.

Today, I cannot make the same claim. In fact, "Dinner for Schmucks" might just have toppled "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" as worst movie of all time.

It's difficult to pinpoint what went wrong when a movie is as horrendously awful as "Dinner for Schmucks." There are so many places to lay the blame for this painful atrocity, I simply have to pick one at random and hope I touch on them all as I come full circle.

Let's start with the premise. Actually, it's a good premise with potential for some great laughs. The trouble here is that the premise is alternately beaten to death and completely disregarded. And when the movie does stick to the premise, it doesn't handle it properly.

The basic idea is Tim, an upwardly mobile executive, is invited to a dinner to which the top management of his firm invite "guests" who will be put on display and judged against other guests to see who is the biggest idiot. Obvious lessons on acceptance will ensue.

Unfortunately, there are at least three distinct scenes in which Tim, the guy bringing Steve Carrell's Barry to a dinner, has an allegedly heartfelt reckoning with Barry about how he understands what he is doing to Barry is wrong. Because Tim's tension and stress are released at these intervals, we never see his frustration build and explode in grand comedic fashion. We need a few scenes like the ones we saw in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" where Steve Martin rails hard at John Candy only to have his justified rants backfire on him.

Paul Rudd, who plays Tim, is capable of frantic, manic energy but he never displays it in response to Barry's destructive influence on his life. It's like they told Paul Rudd he could be straight man and straight man only.

And not only is Rudd always the boring straight man, he is the only straight man. All other characters in this poorly-drawn cartoon world, with the exception of Tim's girlfiend, seem to have fifteen minutes of film dedicated to each of them to spotlight their improvised unfunniness and exaggerated eccentricities. As a result, Steve Carrell's dimwittedly lovable Barry is lost in a sea of cloying, over-acted, and often unfunny lunatics.

I'm not sure if the idea was to use these other loonies to make Barry seem more normal, or if the makers of this awful movie simply wanted to cram it full of actors known for improvising and just let them go.

One thing that would have helped? Editing. Maybe it's me but I don't think extended scenes of Zach Galifanakis staring into the camera are funny. And with a running time of almost two solid hours, someone should have phoned up some of the support players to tell them their scenes were being cut.

Maybe it's my soft spot for Steve Carrell that keep me from wanting to blame him for this mess. I was able to forgive him for "Dan In Real Life" so I should be able to forgive him for this too, right?

No. I held to this belief up until the final scenes of the film in which Barry puts on his show at the dinner to try and win the now-coveted biggest idiot award. Not only is Barry's performance not funny, it goes on and on and on and on and on... Just like the rest of this stupid movie.

My advice to anyone with half a brain (or more): stay home and rent "40 Year Old Virgin." You'll get to see Carrell and Rudd in a better story with better acting, funnier jokes, and more controlled improvisation.

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