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'Dinner for Schmucks' is served

Published August 10. 2010 05:00PM

When a movie is titled "Dinner for Schmucks," it had better have some redeeming qualities.

Use of the word Schmuck, long considered a derogatory word on the order of "the N word," might not have passed muster for a movie title a few decades ago.

Fortunately, "Dinner for Schmucks" passes muster. The movie is not only funny, it has a thoughtful take-away: a fool may be the wisest of all.

That spin is emphasized during the opening credits, when The Beatles' "Fool on the Hill," sweetly sung in the original version by Paul McCartney, is heard while a diorama of stuffed mice is assembled.

Miniature clothing, accessories, activities (a Swiss cheese shaped boat) in a park setting adorn the tiny taxidermy. The assembler is Barry (Steve Carell), whose hobby would seem weird were it not for his sincere dedication.

That's the kind of guy Barry is. So, when he runs into Tim (Paul Rudd), or rather when Tim runs into him with his Porsche sports car, the movie is off and running, as a bizarre friendship, aka "bro-mance," develops between the two.

Tim is to bring an inappropriate guest to a dinner hosted by the CEO of, as it's described, "a private equity firm that specializes in distressed assets," where he works. Barry fills the bill, despite his making a mess of Tim's life, including a mix up that causes his girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak) to leave him.

The best parts of "Dinner" lead up to the dinner scene, which spins out of control in so many ways, including the introduction of competing guests: ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, a not very funny Zach Galifianakis and several other ringers.

A subplot about Tim and Julie, a gallery director, presents an amusing portrayal of the art world, with a very silly turn by a self-possessed artist (Jemaine Clement) and a billionaire investor, Müeller (David Walliams), whose family motto is "To the victor goes the spoils."

Rudd is an endearing straight man, a Dean Martin to Carell, who, with short, red-dyed hair, has the goofy charm of Jerry Lewis circa "The Nutty Professor" (1963). With a Jim Carrey overbite and screwed-up mouth, Carell is not unlike one-half of "Dumb & Dumber" (1994). Carell is thinking outside "The Office" pod. Take note of Rudd's assistant, Susan (Kristen Schaal), a real scene-stealer.

Director Jay Roach ("Meet the Fockers," "Austin Powers" movies) keeps the situation comedy moving, through crisp cinematography, judicious framing and close ups.

The screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handelman, based on the French film, "Le dîner de cons" ("The Dinner Game," 1998) by writer-director Francis Veber, portrays the office politics of corporate-climbing middle management.

"Dinner" also concludes with The Beatles' "Fool on the Hill," with song lyrics ("They don't like him") inferences, just as some exchanges between Tim and Barry reference John Lennon's "Imagine" lyrics ("You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.").

With Barry as mouthpiece, the film-makers make the point that the Wright Brothers and many successful inventors, innovators and explorers were at first negatively labeled as dreamers and fools, too.

"Dinner for Schmucks" is so foolish, it's smart.

"Dinner for Schmucks," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language; Genre: Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 54 min.; Distributed by Paramount Pictures-DreamWorks.

Credit Readers Anonymous: There's a credit for Mouseland Seamstress in "Dinner for Schmucks." After the credits conclude, there's an amusing bonus denouement.

Box Office, July 30: "Inception" made it a three-peat, with $27.5 million and $193 million after three weeks at No. 1.

Director Christopher Nolan's dream-escape was this year's fourth movie to be No. 1 for three straight weeks, following "Avatar," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Shrek Forever After."

"Dinner for Schmucks" opened at No. 2, with $23.3 million.

3. "Salt," $19.2 million, $70.8 million, two weeks: 4. "Despicable Me," $15.5 million, $190.3 million, four weeks; 5. "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," $12.5 million, opening; 6. "Charlie St. Cloud," $12.1 million, opening; 7. "Toy Story 3," $5 million, $389.6 million, seven weeks; 8. "Grown Ups," $4.5 million, $150.7 million, six weeks; 9. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," $4.3 million, $51.8 million, three weeks; 10. "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," $3.9 million, $288.2 million, five weeks

Unreel, Aug. 6: "The Other Guys," Rated PG-13: Will Ferrell reteams with writer-director Adam McKay ("Step Brothers," "Talladega Nights," "Anchorman") and stars with Mark Wahlberg in a comedy about two hapless New York City detectives and two hotshot police officers (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson).

"Step Up 3D," Rated PG-13: The third in the series, directed by Jon Chu, heads to Paris for a dance contest.

"Middle Men," Rated R: George Gallo directs Luke Wilson as internet pioneer Jack Harris in the real-life based drama.

"Twelve," No MPAA Rating: Joel Schumacher directs Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin and 50 Cent in a drama about a New York City drug dealer.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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