I have mixed feelings about Dinner for Schmucks. On the one hand it is pretty funny, and I’ve said before that I’m prepared to forgive a lot if the movie is funny enough. On the other hand the humor is on the sick side, and none of the characters are particularly likable.
Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) is an analyst at a sleazy private-investment firm who is desperate to wrangle a promotion in order to impress his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) enough to convince her to marry him. He gets a chance but it depends on getting at good score at the top brasses’ secret monthly “dinner for idiots.” Each executive is required to bring a person who is…er…eccentric. The guests will be treated with a show of seriousness and at the end of the dinner the one considered most idiotic will be given an award, while the executives secretly share a laugh at his expense. (Sort of reminiscent of the “pig dinners” that used to be an annual hazing ritual at some fraternities and military academies.)
Tim is trying to find a way to get out of it when who should he run into (literally) than Barry Speck (Steve Carell), an amateur taxidermist whose hobby is creating cute reconstructions of famous paintings using dead mice. Barry seems too good to be true; Tim knows that if he brings him to the dinner he will surely win, and the temptation is too much to resist.
The movie falls into the pattern of a traditional slapstick-heavy screwball comedy, though an unusually mean-spirited one. Steve Carrell is absolutely hilarious, but his character is one that would make any sane person run away screaming. Jemaine Clement is also very funny as a egomaniacal artist, another person you would not want to have around. Tim, the real “schmuck” of the title, is supposed to be the hero, but is impossible to root for. The movie suffers from the lack of a single truly sympathetic character.