The comedy Dinner for Schmucks (based on the French Le Diner de Cons), is supposed to be a story of redemption, but there’s one problem: Our hero doesn’t need to be redeemed.
When Tim (Paul Rudd) is invited by his boss to a mean-spirited dinner party—the goal is to invite the most idiotic person you can find—he knows the premise is odious and he wants no part of it. He only even considers going because he thinks it will help him get a promotion—and maybe finally a “yes” to that marriage proposal from his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak). But when he literally runs over the nerdy Barry (Steve Carell)—IRS agent by day, mouse diorama artist by night—he feels the cosmos are pretty much ordering him to go.
But Barry is one of those walking trainwrecks—everything he touches becomes a complete and utter disaster. In short order, Barry has ruined Tim’s apartment, his car, and his relationship with Julie. And maybe because Tim is such a decent guy, it’s all the more frustrating to watch Barry hijack his life.
We’re supposed to find Barry annoying but lovable, the same way, I suppose, we felt about the John Candy character in Planes Trains and Automobiles. But he’s written so broadly, he’s a total caricature, not a sympathetic man. (Actually, Barry’s hilarious mice designs—he painstakingly dresses dead mice in tiny costumes and places them on elaborate sets—are the best thing about the film. I wish the rest of Dinner For Schmucks had been executed with such obvious care.)
Dinner for Schmucks picks up a bit in its final half-an-hour, when the “schmucks,” including Zach Galifianakos as a fellow IRS agent who thinks he has mastered mind control, finally assemble for their dinner. But by then, I wanted Barry out of Tim’s life—and most definitely out of mine.