Excruciating embarassment is the recipe for Schmucks’ (mild) success

Film
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS
Cert: 12A

AS dinners go, this one’s hardly haute cuisine, but it just about fills you up. On offer is a menu of daft characters, cheap gags and the odd bit of laugh-out-loud slapstick. Some of it is tasteless, much of it is undercooked, and the service is very slow – it lasts a maddening 114 minutes. But for a no-frills Friday night, it’ll do. Like Nando’s, basically.

Paul Rudd (Role Models, I Love You Man) is Tim, a private equity analyst with his eye on a promotion. Bankers in Hollywood are, without fail, evil jerks, and here is no different: the evil amusement of the head honchos at Tim’s firm is to hold a dinner every month, to which each person must bring an idiot. Victory goes to the guy with the most idiotic guest, and in Tim’s case, the pathway to promotion.

Enter Steve Carrell’s world-class doofus, Barry. He lacks all social awareness, is catastrophically accident prone, and has a hobby making dioramas out of stuffed mice. He makes Carrell’s The Office character look like a wise sage. After mistakenly running Barry over, Tim spies his perfect dinner party idiot and befriends him. But Barry, of course, is a walking calamity, and chaos ensues.

There’s plenty of comic potential in the set-up, and the film takes a throw-at-the- wall-and-see-what-sticks-approach to exploiting it. The hit/fail rate is about half and half. As well as Carrell’s comedic goofing, there are some funny cameos from The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis, Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement and Kristen Schaal, and a ropy cameo from our own David Walliams. Carrell, Paul Rudd and director Jay Roach (who was behind the Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers films) have all done funnier work, though.

THE SWITCH
Cert: 12A
JENNIFER Anniston’s never-ending run of lacklustre rom coms takes a mild upward turn – very mild indeed – in this blandly predictable slice of whimsy. She plays Kassie, an unmarried TV producer who decides to opt for the turkey baster in order to get pregnant. Her best friend is downbeat dude Wally (Jason Bateman), who doesn’t approve of the plan – not least because he’s secretly in love with her. Once Kassie has found a suave, married alpha male to donate his genes, her friends throw her a party to celebrate. Wally gets drunk, locks himself in the bathroom, finds the bottle containing the sperm, and switches it for his own. Next day, he doesn’t remember a thing.

Seven years later, having moved away from New York, Kassie returns with her son Sebastian. Alpha Male Guy is now divorced, available and ready to be a dad. But Wally’s around too, of course, and begins to see himself in weird little moppet Sebastian. And the memories begin to come back.

There are some small charms to be had along the way here. That’s mainly thanks to Bateman, who gives a surprisingly layered performance, and his friendship with Sebastian is genuinely touching. Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis provide some laughs as the leads’ respective buddies; but gee, to see those two class acts reduced to playing best friend roles in conveyor-belt fluff like this is saddening.