AS THE OPENING CREDITS roll for the Paul Rudd/Steve Carell teamup Dinner for Schmucks, the camera carefully pans over a miniature landscape full of taxidermied mice—mice out for a stroll, mice having a picnic, mice working on their tans. What these mice have to do with Our Hero, the dashing and presumably quite virile Paul Rudd, will soon become clear. Clear-ish.
You see, Rudd has a job at a fancy-seeming investment concern, and he's angling for a promotion, because he thinks if he gets one, his fancy-seeming girlfriend will finally agree to marry him. He impresses upper management enough to get a shot at a new office, but his promotion is contingent on his participation in a dinner hosted by his boss, a "Dinner for Extraordinary People"—where each guest competes to bring the biggest freak to dinner. (That the captains of finance are evil fuckers is a plot point Dinner for Schmucks trusts we will take on faith.)
This is where the mice come in. Steve Carell is an earnest, clueless taxidermist. He likes to make tiny spectacles for dead mice, and dress them up in tiny jackets. He's Paul Rudd's freak. Lengthy hijinks sequences establish just how much of a freak he is. But Paul Rudd's fancy-seeming girlfriend owns an art gallery and a moral compass. Even though she's French, she still doesn't approve of the whole concept of inviting people over to dinner in order to mock them. Over the next hour and a half, his relationship is destroyed, important lunches with clients are sabotaged, and Jemaine Clement threatens Paul Rudd sexually, as an artist who's in touch with his animal nature (he looks alright in a goat suit). In due course, the inevitable happens—the bad guys receive their comeuppance, the good guys regain the strength to be good, and everyone learns a little something about friendship.
You gotta grade on a curve with movies like Dinner for Schmucks. Sure, it's formulaic, totally predictable, and a little strained—but it's also got an offbeat, ornery streak, some great casting (including Zach Galifianakis as a menacing IRS auditor), and a willingness to engage honestly with awkwardness. When movies like Grown Ups exist in this world, it just doesn't seem fair to go too hard on harmless fare like Dinner for Schmucks.