Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sorry Schmucks

As an avowed defender of the spazzes, schlubs and oddballs of the world I was sort of looking forward to Dinner For Schmucks --

That turned out to be a mistake.

I did not laugh once through the entire picture -- not once!

For the seven or eight people out there who don't know the premise of DFS, it's about a bunch of plutocrats who invite assorted misfits over to a monthly dinner where they can be ridiculed behind their backs. Paul Rudd plays a guy trying to get in good with his rich colleagues. Carell plays one of the eponymous "schmucks."

A movie about hunting down exotic idiots and bringing them for a mean-spirited "performance" of sorts, could have been entertaining. But you would be well advised to skip this movie -- it's a disaster. Among the movie's fatal flaws:

1) Steve Carell is not schmucky-- he's stupid.

Carrell plays Barry, the sort of nerd who's so utterly cut off from the rest of us that has no idea how creepy he comes off.

Which is fine as the underpinnings for a comic character, I guess, but Carrell wasn't particularly funny. We're supposed to find it hilarious, for instance, that Carell's prime distraction in life is something he calls his "mousterpieces" -- handmade set pieces from literature or history that Barry populates with dead mice. (Which he stuffs himself.)

Are you laughing yet?

2) The filmmakers almost seem overly worried that they're mocking Carrell.

I think the film's uncontroversial guiding philosophy is that the weirdoes of life are people, too, and should be treated as such.

OK, sure, I'll buy that.

But just because you treat someone with respect, doesn't mean that you have to be their pal. If someone is so dumb that they ruin your life (as Carell does over and over again) you're allowed to be angry and call them a jackass and not risk moral turpitude. Carell wasn't simply a sweet, feckless sort of manchild. He was utterly oblivious to how much havoc he was wreaking in Rudd's life. Rudd was well within his rights to despise him.

3) Where's the Yiddishkeit?

I feel for a movie with the word "schmucks" in the title, you need some sort of underlying Jewyness. Aside from the title, the word "schmucks" is never uttered. And none of the characters are Jewish.

I'm not saying that they needed to throw Jackie Mason into the movie, but where did this title come from if the movie is not Jewish in any form? I feel that was a form of false advertising. (There is also some question, as my old paper The Forward asked, as to whether the more proper title would be, "Dinner for Schlemiles." But I'll leave that one to the Yiddish scholars out there.)

4) The side characters are all unfunny.

Since The Hangover, I've been a fan of Zach Galifianakis but what the hell is he doing here? He plays an intense "mind control" IRS agent, who can apparently slip in and out of Barry's thoughts at will.

You have to wonder what the studio execs said at the meetings when this character was discussed.

Maybe they thought that a comedian of Galifianakis' talent could pull it off and they wouldn't have to come up with, you know, funny dialogue. Or funny situations.

This should serve as a lesson.