The new Steve Carell buffet wasn't screened by WW press deadlines--possibly because it was still being edited. Here's a review.

Dinner for Schmucks

WW Critic's Score: 66

As the lead putz in Dinner for Schmucks, Steve Carell collects dead mice and places them in dioramas: historical and romantic tableaus (The Last Supper, lovers' picnics) with the taxidermied rodent corpses posed in tiny, detailed costumes. The miniatures are equal parts endearing and pathetic, and tell us we're supposed to measure their creator by the same ratio. They are a durably funny sight gag, and not the first time in recent Hollywood comedy that the schlubby hero's eccentric hobby was more interesting than the antics around him—think of Jason Segal's vampire puppet musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall—but it is hard to credit the assumption that Carell's art marks him as an outcast. The dapper mice look exactly like the furry sophisticates Wes Anderson created for Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Anderson is very popular, even if his cinematographer calls him sociopathic.

Social status is the unspoken subject of most contemporary American comedy, but it is rare to see the topic explicitly broached—the exceptions are high-school movies and Ricky Gervais' The Invention of Lying, which bordered on a eugenics lecture. Because Dinner for Schmucks hangs loosely on the model of Francis Veber's The Dinner Game—wealthy shits invite sweet imbeciles to supper in order to mock them—it has to face the inequality most people are confronted with in their freshman dorm pairings: Some people are cooler than others. (In both pictures, the targets are blissfully ignorant of any hierarchy, while in real life the have-nots are often bitterly aware.) As an indictment of snobbery and a defense of originality, this movie is not at all original, but it isn't snobbish either, and its affection for its maladroits is eventually difficult to resist.


I don't want to overpraise Dinner for Schmucks. It stalls in frantic slapstick, it is largely visually ugly (but not spiritually ugly—an important distinction) and its plot grinds through frivolous mounting frustrations: all trademarks of director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents and its sequels). But it gets its chuckles. In the final reel, when Carell reveals his greatest "mousterpieces" in an elaborate presentation to Paul Rudd and other dinner hosts, I laughed about as hard as I have all year. The jokes depend on an assured, beatific obliviousness, which is nicely conveyed by Carell (sharing a barber with Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, he is more nuanced than his part deserves) and handled even better by Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement, whose role as a sensuous avant garde artist is completely superfluous but has more energy than nearly anything else in the movie. His thoughts on what might be learned from living for six months in the company of goats are particularly rich.

I won't reveal Clement's explanation, or any of the other lines that worked for me, partly because I don't want to spoil them but mostly because they won't read as funny on the page; they hinge entirely on delivery. Dinner for Schmucks was created mostly through improvisation, the preferred method of Carell and his cronies, and it stands as an exhibit on the potential and limitations of that approach. It might be asked whether a tightly tailored 90-minute comedy can ever be created in this way—Roach certainly isn't making the attempt (even with good bits from Zack Galifianakis, Ron Livingston and Octavia Spencer as a pet psychic who talks to a vulture, Schmucks still regularly sags). It's telling that the movie's 114-minute running time hadn't been finalized earlier this week. More troublingly, improv bends toward the most outrageous takes, indulging the temptation to equate inspiration with idiocy: All the artists here are fools. That's plain unfair. I mean, those mice are the work of a genius. PG-13.

Opens Friday at Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century at Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18&IMAX, Cinetopia, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas.