This uneven comedy inspired by a biting, snappier French farce (that was based on a French play) lends itself to the comedic talents of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd who've appeared together in The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman. Still, this wacky, loose remake is a little different from the norm of studio comedies seen in recent years at the cineplex.
Dinner for Schmucks, dispassionately directed presumably for commercial reasons by Jay Roach (Meet the Parents), centers on rising executive Tim Conrad (Rudd) in a private equity firm. He "succeeds" in finding the perfect guest, IRS employee Barry Speck (a dentally-different Carell) for his boss's monthly event. This so-called "dinner for idiots" has its perks for the striver who shows up with the biggest buffoon.
In this adaptation of Francis Weber, the filmmakers use an Odd Couple premise with a suggestion of pictures like The Cable Guy or What About Bob? Much of the story from David Guion and Michael Handelman runs over one crazy evening while its antecedent was more confined from a production standpoint and was a richer indicting comedy of manners.
The comedy lurches from the screwball to the stalking variety as the shifting relationship between the milquetoast Conrad and the hapless naive schmuck ("tornado of destruction") Speck drive a movie which has an ad-lib quality to it like what Rudd brought to last year's I Love You, Man.
In a tale with line readings that hit and miss, Speck is like a leech to Barry, making his personal and professional life troublesome. Pathetic, nuts or some kind of needy idiot savant may be a way to describe a tricky fellow who enjoys making dioramas from stuffed mice donning puny outfits. Or as the man with apparent trouble in social skills and syntax who gently opens up through this process, they're "mousterpieces."
The aggregate of a remote professional affected by a pest not originally as perceived has its certain uproarious advantages from all of the scheming and embarrassment with its disastrous results. Carell (Date Night and Despicable Me) and Rudd (Role Models) are decent together supplying a wry, variable, vaudevillian charm when it comes to harassing and humiliation necessitating change. Maybe big boss Fender (Bruce Greenwood) and Tim's fiancee (Stephanie Szostak) are less interesting due to the focus of the script.
However, some peculiar, funny support comes by way of Jemaine Clement as a syncretistic artist and the bearded, busy Zach Galifianakis (Youth in Revolt, Up in the Air) as a zingy IRS guy. Ron Livingston (Office Space) is around as a smarmy business associate and Lucy Punch is Darla, Tim's stalking ex-girlfriend, especially around a risible "wet" napkin scene.
A softened Schmucks may belie its overrall talent level and is not as entertaining as what Mike Nichols did with Weber in The Birdcage. But, at least this arguably overstuffed Dinner isn't low-minded even if it always doesn't make the most of ebullient physical and situational eccentricities.