Your Weekend for Schmucks at the Movies

07/30/2010 8:54 AM |

Whore you calling a schmuck?
  • Who’re you calling a schmuck?

In preparation for this column and in service of my general moviegoing OCD, I tend look at the release schedules pretty far in advance, and for awhile, this weekend loomed as the single least interesting/most depressing of the summer. Then Paramount moved Dinner for Schmucks out to this weekend, and a Jay Roach comedy counting as a marked improvement should tell you something about the dim prospects. Hey, have you seen Inception yet? You have? Well, have you seen it a second time? Yeah? Then maybe enjoy the weather, because here’s your menu:

Dinner for Schmucks: Jay Roach is the comedy journeyman who boasts passable executions of high-concept comic ideas (Meet the Parents; Austin Powers) before his complicity in beating those jokes straight into the ground (see the sequels to those movies, especially the dire Meet the Fockers). As with I Love You, Man, a purveyor of middling Stiller comedies has been given the Apatow dress-up, with Paul Rudd as the genial dork bringing an awkward new pretend-friend (Steve Carell) to dinner—a secret competition over which businessman can recruit the lamest or most absurd, well, schmuck, I guess. It’s all in service of remaking one of those French comedies (in this case The Dinner Game) that nobody ever likes in the English-language versions [It is perhaps worth noting at this juncture that in fact The Dinner Game is itself appallingly bad! —Ed.]. Rowin’s review sounds appropriately mild, though I’d warn against invoking The Jerk or even Dumb and Dumber if you’re trying to say a comedy isn’t much good. But the observation at the core of this comparison—that “stupid” comedy characters have a particular, movie-ish brand of stupidity that bares little resemblance to actual real-life morons—is quite interesting, and it remains to be seen (by me, I mean) if Carell is about to transcend the phoniness of that conceit with the same zeal as Steve Martin and, to lesser extent, Jim Carrey. Carell’s usual mode of comedy is quieter, smaller, closer to the bone: even at his most cartoonish, The Office‘s Michael Scott can be chillingly plausible in his way, and Carell’s last real shot at playing stupid in a movie (rather than awkward or pompous) had him making no bones about the pure clinical stupidity of Anchorman‘s Brick Tamland. Maybe Dinner for Schmucks will let him run wilder, or maybe he’ll just bring enough emotional realism to make the whole thing vaguely depressing.

Get Low: It’s garnering some of the summer’s best reviews, but as far as I’m concerned, Henry Stewart’s take has it right: this is a poky, cornball comedy-drama about a depression-era old coot (Robert Duvall) with a supremely anticlimactic terrible secret. Bill Murray is on hand as the funeral director who agrees to provide the “living funeral” for Duvall’s hermit, and his dry, elegant delivery saves many a scene, until he runs out of scenes, and then the movie is all faux-literary confessions and redemptions. The tall-tale comparisons are apt; this movie plays like a tall tale without any of that entertaining exaggeration. It goes by pleasantly enough, but it sure doesn’t mean much in the end.

The Extra Man: Speaking of Bill Murray: why aren’t more people falling over themselves to write similarly droll older-fellow parts for Kevin Kline? Like Murray, Kline hit one of his charm peaks in 1993, with the hit comedy Dave. It hasn’t grown into a classic of Groundhog Day‘s stature, but it’s still (last I checked) a charming, funny little movie that effectively builds on the goodwill Kline accrued playing bigger-ego characters in A Fish Called Wanda and Soapdish (remember Soapdish? No? You didn’t watch it on HBO constantly when you were twelve? OK then). Wild Wild West seems to have put the kibosh on the idea of Kline as a mainstream leading man, and for the past ten years he’s been playing writerly and/or professorial types, usually somewhere on the avuncular-to-drunk scale (adrunkular?). That seems to be the deal with The Extra Man, where he plays an eccentric nonsexual escort of older Manhattan ladies who takes younger eccentric Paul Dano under his wing; given the involvement of Team American Splendor, who vaulted Paul Giamatti into several leading roles, it sounds promising enough, except that if a Kevin Kline movie by the American Splendor people were all that good, it would probably be getting the Get Low treatment in the press, rather than what feels like a quiet, near-dump release. But maybe the studios and critics are just mistaken, and this is the real light indie comedy to see this weekend! If not, someone ought to make a movie taking advantage of the gifts of Kline and, oh, let’s say Steve Martin, and I don’t mean another Pink Panther.

Charlie St. Cloud: As a pre-emptive apology/revenge for this movie not being based on a Nicholas Sparks book (seriously, multiple people have asked me if it is), star Zac Efron just signed on to make an actual Sparks movie. All are punished!

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore: Do you ever read the movie reviews from the Associated Press? They’re pure boilerplate, with lots of one-to-two sentence paragraphs and plot summary, but they’re also surprisingly picky, with little sense of feeling or affection. The AP critics seem to assign a movie 100 points, and deduct accordingly: predictability, minus ten points; implausibility, minus ten points; imperfect supporting performance, minus ten points. Almost everything they review seems to land in the two-star range (so basically, they’re the anti-Rolling Stone). Which is why I was so shocked to read a three-star assessment of, all things, presumed talking-animal monstrosity Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore; I fantasize that this will cause their methodical system of criticism to break down and spit out ERROR messages and maybe explode, but it may not even be that much of an anomaly: a few other stray reviews have also sounded less traumatized than you might think, calling the movie silly fun for kids rather than, say, a malicious torture device for adults. Okay, not a lot, but even some of the negative reviews use adverbs like “tolerably” rather than “horrifically.” Weirdly, this is sort of compatible with my faint memories of the original Cats & Dogs, which I saw at a drive-in back in the summer of 2001. It wasn’t very good, mind, but it had sort of a Looney Tunes (lite) sensibility that made me chuckle a few times, and none of the animals wore sunglasses or surfed or danced to bad radio songs from ten months ago (to my recollection). That said, I’m actually going to a drive-in upstate this weekend, and I still won’t ever see this shit.