The titular feast comes surprisingly late in Dinner for Schmucks, though few guests are likely to complain since the appetizers are nearly as savory as the main course. An English-language adaptation of writer/director Francis Veber's 1998 comedy The Dinner Game, Dinner for Schmucks is at times uproariously funny, yet it's occasionally a little too broad for its own good. The talented cast was obviously having a great time riffing on David Guion and Michael Handelman's screenplay, and this is one instance where the enthusiasm of everyone involved actually translates into good comedy, instead of making us feel as if we're observing an elaborate inside joke. And while Paul Rudd pulls off the impressive feat of playing straight man to a particularly unhinged Steve Carell with stalwart conviction, the fact that Guion and Handelman take their time with the setup means that there's still plenty of room for supporting players Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Schaal, and Lucy Punch to get some big laughs as the table is being set.
Upwardly mobile executive Tim (Rudd) has just landed his company an extremely wealthy Swiss client when his boss, Lance (Bruce Greenwood), invites him to an exclusive, yet unusually mean-spirited dinner party where each of the high-powered executives brings a guest to make fun of. Recognizing that his long-awaited promotion is finally within reach, Tim begins to have second thoughts about participating in the elaborate charade when his longtime girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), the successful curator at a local art gallery, voices intense disdain for the idea. The following day, Tim is looking for a way out of the dinner when fate throws the perfect guest right in front of his luxury car. Barry (Carell) is a sweet but dim-witted IRS agent with an unusual hobby: he creates elaborate dioramas featuring stuffed mice. His latest project is "The Last Supper," and he's just put the finishing touches on a tiny mouse Jesus to set at the center of the table. Tim knows that Barry is his ticket to a big corner office on the seventh floor, but the closer the party looms, the more he realizes that his bumbling new acquaintance is a magnet for chaos.
Given the film's title, one might assume that much of the action in Dinner for Schmucks would take place at the actual dinner party. Surprisingly, screenwriters Guion and Handelman afford themselves plenty of time to have fun with the setup. And their approach pays off in more ways than one; in addition to giving a fair amount of depth to characters that may have otherwise seemed two-dimensional, Guion and Handelman deliver a collection of memorable comic set pieces that give the entire film a giddy sense of momentum leading up to the main event. Even then, some of the talent seems wasted (Ron Livingston doesn't do much but wring his hands as a backstabbing ladder-climber and odds are you'll miss Alex Borstein if you blink), though Clement kills as an oversexed artist early on and Galifianakis later keeps the laughs coming as Barry's boss.