Rudd stars as Tim – a mid-level corporate executive who gets a chance for promotion when his boss invites him to an exclusive dinner party. The catch is that he must bring someone with a ‘special talent’ for the other guests to ridicule.
He’s not really sold on the idea (’cause he’s a nice guy), but when Tim runs into creative taxidermist Barry (Carell), he cannot help thinking he’s found the ideal candidate.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.
The film actually begins with promise. The opening credits are truly surreal – rolling over scenes of dead mice being lovingly trussed up in all manner of little costumes and placed into all manner of miniature sets.
This is Barry’s hobby of course, and an amusing one it is. It reminded me of the Walter Potter museum in Cornwall’s Jamaica Inn, which I was lucky enough to visit before it closed down in 2003. And there it wasn’t just costumed rodents to provide thrills and delights. There was a rabbits’ schoolroom, a kittens’ tea party, guinea pig cricketers and athletic toads and so much more.
But anyway, I’ve no idea what Walter Potter was like as a man. But, I suspect that while his creations were wonderfully breathtaking in their strangeness, the hobbyist himself was more low key – a quiet eccentric perhaps? It’s not the case in this film though of course. It’s an American screwball comedy so Carell’s Barry is a hugely over-the-top crazy buffoon.
And this is where I think this film goes terribly wrong. All the intended comedy in this movie is handled with a heavy hand. You can tell that it’s trying hard to be surreal, but unfortunately, when dished out with a bulldozer, surrealism descends into silliness.
Surely the costumed mice in all their absurdity are funny enough? Do we also need Carell’s annoying fool in the mix, as well as a strange mind-control expert with bizarre taste in knitwear, and an artist dressed like Mr Tumnus, and a man with a bird of prey? The list goes on. Need I continue?
My experience of great surreal comedy is that it’s usually delivered in an understated way. I find that it initially passes by unnoticed, and then hits me moments later with its hilarity.
There’s none of that subtlety in Dinner for Schmucks. Like most dinners served up in the States, it’s been put together using ‘the bigger is better’ American school of thinking.
At this point, I must stress that I don’t think all American comedy is lacking in subtlety or surreal humour. There’s plenty of great stuff out there. In fact, Paul Rudd himself played the boyfriend of one of America’s best comedy characters – the eccentric Phoebe Buffay from Friends.
So he should know better.
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And so should David Walliams. He has a small role in this movie as Swiss businessman Mueller – a one-dimensional caricature if ever there was one. Sadly, little of this great British comic’s extensive talent shines through here. If only they’d had Mueller introducing a schmuck to the proceedings too – such as a flute-playing Scottish cousin with a talent for riddles…
Dinner for Schmucks is currently available on demand on Sky Box Office and Filmflex.