Life is good for financial adviser Tim (Rudd). He’s got the great apartment, he’s got the lovely girlfriend, he drives a Porsche... He’s also got the ambition so, when a management vacancy comes up, he puts his neck on the line. It’s a ballsy move that his boss Lance (Greenwood) admires but, before Tim secures the big office and the big payday, he’s got to impress at Lance’s monthly dinner: a dinner where the company’s bigwigs compete to see who can bring along the biggest idiot.
Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Szostak) is shocked at the cruelty of it all and makes Tim promise not to get involved. However when fate drops ubergeek / amateur taxidermist / mouse artist Barry (Carell) in front of his car, what’s a man to do?
The arrival of Barry, a walking disaster to anyone in the fallout zone, is the point where this comedy of embarrassment is supposed to kick off into squirm inducing, guilty laughs. It almost does it: it's certainly got "embarrassment" and "squirm inducing" down pat. You WILL spend time watching events unfold through your fingers, you just won't be doing for the the good Office / Curb Your Enthusiasm-style reasons. You'll also spend similar amounts of time wondering how a film featuring so much comic talent could be so breathtakingly dire.
You've got the amiable Rudd playing a slightly uptight, over-eager business type. You've got Carell playing a man with assorted foibles and some serious social issues. You've got Jay Roach behind the camera, the man that brought the world Austin Powers and Meet The Parents, among others. At the very least then you'd expect Dinner For Schmucks to be a competent, if predictable, comedy with, probably, the occasional belly laugh. It's not even that. You could lose three fingers in an industrial accident and still count the laughs on one hand.
That's right, maths whizzes: Dinner For Schmucks takes some of Hollywood's leading funny people and uses them to generate precisely two laughs. The first of these derives from Barry's "art", which recreates famous pictures and scenes using stuffed mice. The second comes from Jemaine Clement as a sexually voracious, eccentric artist. When the comedy highlights are dead rodents in human clothing and that old stalwart, the "wacky artist", it really doesn't bode well.
It gets worse. In addition to wasting Carell, Rudd and Roach, Dinner For Schmucks takes a supporting cast of Ron (Office Space) Livingston, Kristen Schaal, David Walliams, Chris O’Dowd and excellent ventriloquist (and YouTube favourite) Jeff Dunham and does its level best to destroy their careers. It doesn't end there either: there are two sub-plots involving Tim's nymphomaniac stalker Darla (Punch) and Barry's would-be-hypnotist boss Therman (The Hangover's usually excellent Galifianakis) that will have you gnawing your fist in embarrassment.
It's debatable that last week's Grown Ups is a worse film than Schmucks and yes, two laughs are two more than Grown Ups achieved in a similarly painful running time. But we've come to expect so little of Sandler and Schneider et al that Grown Ups' lack of quality was hardly a shock. For Schmucks to take so much and turn it into so little is actually a remarkable achievement. It's just not one to: a) be proud of; or b) pay money to see.