I've no idea why Jay Roach decided to call his latest film, "Dinner for Schmucks," a title that wildly misrepresents the material, except that it's crass enough to get people into theaters.
But Roach's other decisions, especially his eye for casting, are spot-on because his movie is surprisingly companionable, driven by some game performances.
A reinvention of Francis Verber's bracing, shameless 1998 French farce of humiliation, "Le dîner de cons" (released here as "The Dinner Game" in 1999), Roach's comedy is essentially something of a begrudging buddy film with the usual mismatched duo - two guys who wouldn't normally be friends. It's more "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" than "The Odd Couple."
Paul Rudd and Steve Carell inherit the original Thierry Lhermitte-Jacques Villeret roles of a careerist and the dolt he intends to use to impress his boss at a party where guests bring idiots for entertainment purposes.
Rudd, ever solid and always a good sport, anchors the film with his conflicted flipflopping over the conceit. But Carell is the source of the film's heart and humor as Barry, a poor soul into mouse-oriented taxidermy and dioramas. Wearing closely-cropped red hair with short bangs and prosthetic teeth (that seem to complement a nose that itself always seems like a prosethetic), Carell resembles a rodent himself.
A truly witty touch.
But giving Carell some serious competition are Jemaine Clement, Lucy Punch and particuarly the inspired Zach Galifianakis, all playing assorted crazies - and all of whom help Roach's spiked punch go down easy.