Film Friday: ‘Dinner For Schmucks’ and ‘Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore’

by W. Andrew Powell

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner for Schmucks

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner for Schmucks

Opening this weekend: Steve Carell and Paul Rudd star in the comedy Dinner For Schmucks; the pets are back on another mission in Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore; and Zac Efron tries to play a serious role in the teen drama, Charlie St. Cloud.

Dinner For Schmucks
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Stephanie Szostak, Zach Galifianakis
Director: Jay Roach

As anyone who has taken public transit in any city in the world will tell you, the world is full of schmucks, and in director Jay Roach’s latest comedy, we get a look at every variety, in all their idiosyncratic ways.

Paul Rudd is Tim, an average business executive who wants to get ahead at any cost in the hopes of a brighter future with his girlfriend Julie, played by Stephanie Szostak. When he starts trying to impress his boss, played by Bruce Greenwood, he ends up being invited to a very special dinner with some very unique people.

The goal is to bring the biggest loser to the dinner party, and Tim might just have the perfect guy: Barry, the extravagant idiot who builds dreamscape dioramas for the dead rodents he collects around the city.

Now Tim just has to make sure Barry can “win” against a collection of the odd and the nearly insane. Tim just has to ask himself who is the bigger schmuck if he’s exploiting a friendly idiot to get ahead in his career.

Based on a French film that critics have called much more daring and original, Dinner For Schmucks has reviewers almost perfectly divided. Some are calling it funny and energetic, while others think it’s deeply flawed and simply not that funny.

The general agreement among critics, however, is that Roach brings the same energy seen in his films Austin Powers, and Meet the Fockers, which makes for a funny, madcap story.

“This may not be the highest achievement of the director’s art — to exceed minimal expectations — but it’s an honorable one, and Roach makes the grade,” wrote Richard Corliss for Time Magazine.

While Peter Howell of the Toronto Star wrote, “In adapting Francis Veber’s 1998 French farce Le Dîner des cons (The Dinner Game), Roach and his writers David Guion and Michael Handelman have completely defanged it.”

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
Starring: Chris O’Donnell, Jack McBrayer, Christina Applegate, Alec Baldwin
Director: Brad Peyton

If you’re anywhere near a theatre this weekend, that noise you’ll hear is the sound of every Warner Bros. executive going “ka-ching” as dollar signs spin over their eyeballs.

It’s pretty simple Hollywood arithmatic — the original Cats & Dogs grossed an estimated $200 million at the worldwide box office, and while the new film cost a bit more to make, it looks set to pull in lots of families this weekend, even if the reviews are not looking so hot.

In the sequel, MEOW agent Kitty Galore has gone rogue from the cat’s spy agency and she’s got her sights set on taking down both the dogs, and all of her former cat friends. The only hope the world has now is for the cats and dogs to join forces so they can deal with this dangerous enemy.

Rated at just 17% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is not what I would call a hot pick, but it’s probably cute enough to entertain parents and their kids. Next to Despicable Me though, or any of the other recent kid-friendly releases this summer, it definitely pales in comparison.

“This chatty 3D spy spoof is as hard-pressed for laughs as Marmaduke, once you get past the novelty of ‘Hey, the dogs and cats are TALKING,'” wrote Roger Moore for the Orlando Sentinel.

Amy Biancolli of the Houston Chronicle was much more forgiving, however, and wrote that it “[e]xploits every cliché with abundant good cheer and an admirable, unapologetic ridiculousness.”

Also opening this weekend…

Charlie St. Cloud
Starring: Zac Efron, Kim Basinger, Amanda Crew, Donal Logue
Director: Burr Steers

After Charlie St. Cloud, played by Zac Efron, loses his younger brother in a car accident, the college-bound teen takes a job as a caretaker at the cemetery where his brother is buried. Planning to spend each night playing catch with what appears to be the memory of his brother, Charlie must finally make a choice between the promise he once made, and a girl who walks into his life.

“The movie tries to capture the crushing weight of loss,” wrote Claudia Puig of USA Today, “but between the insipid pop tunes and the repetitive shots cutting away to a lighthouse on a scenic outcropping, it feels more like a film version of a condolence card.”

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