The characters and situations presented in Dinner for Schmucks are so excessively ridiculous that one or the other will ultimately draw laughs. The downside to this structure of supreme silliness is that when the film finally demands sympathy and understanding of its subjects, it’s nearly impossible to comply given the almost otherworldly foundation they’ve been built upon. Steve Carell and Paul Rudd fill their roles with torrents of enthusiasm and while they manage to edge past the stale supporting characters, they’re unable to avoid getting dragged down to a less constructive level during the expected plot contrivances. Rarely realistic and barely believable, Dinner for Schmuck’s methodical demolition of its protagonist’s life does become surprisingly entertaining to witness under the constant bombardment of ludicrous scenarios.
With an expensive lifestyle and the possibility of marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Tim (Paul Rudd) finds himself boldly elbowing his way through the rat race of corporate ladder-climbing at the private equity firm, Fender Financial, where he works. Finally scrambling his way into the prospects of upper management, Tim is invited to a “Dinner for Winners” at the boss’s house, a callous competition where each executive must bring the most maniacal idiot they can find for the others to berate. When Tim runs into Barry (Steve Carell), a nerdy taxidermist whose hobby involves creating elaborate dioramas with stuffed mice, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot – but Barry’s early arrival quickly turns disastrous as the oblivious simpleton begins wreaking havoc on Tim’s personal life as well as his teetering career.
“I can’t help but think this is partially my fault.” Dinner for Schmucks tries to capitalize on the ridiculous. When particular gags just don’t work, the script opts to deliver a barrage of preposterous, unexplainably kooky characters and dialogue to distract the audience from the lack of genuinely funny content. Some of the time it succeeds, creating eccentricities so disconnected, so over-the-top that uneasy laughter is bound to occur. The remaining bits powerlessly fail to cleverly mask the fact that many of the scenery changes and plot progressions are trite gambits as predictable, recycled and pathetic as the lead characters.
The guys at the office verbally joke about floor levels denoting seniority and the collecting of idiotic dinner guests, while slapstick bullies its way into the picture through Tim’s back pain and bold artist Kieran’s (Jemaine Clement) fancying of full-body satyr attire and animalistic mating dances. The large gathering of absurd supper company adds humor with physical appearances and disturbing skills. But the majority of comedy comes from Steve Carell, who singlehandedly serves up a combination of slapstick, rubbish, contorted facial expressions, immaturity and extreme, introverted conversations. While Carell steals the show with his “mousterpiece” taxidermy creations, the characters themselves nearly ruin it with their out-of-this-world designs. None of the cast appears convincingly real, stretching their weirdness beyond anything remotely plausible, and Tim is always too accepting of every misunderstanding and awkward situation, as if he’s already accustomed to such ceaseless nonsense.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)