07/27/2010 09:35 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks

I kept waiting for Jay Roach's Dinner for Schmucks to run out of steam or jokes. But it rarely did.

Not that the laughs built to a big pay-off -- nor did the jokes ever evoke the kind of gasping-for-air laughter that, say, The Hangover did. But Roach, working from a script by David Guion and Michael Handelman, regularly jolts you with enough unexpected and wonderfully weird moments that you rarely grow impatient with this broad comedy.

Indeed, I'd count this film as one of the rare -- very rare -- examples of a film adapted by Hollywood from one of those French farces that Francis Veber seems to toss off in his sleep that actually works (The Birdcage is one of the only other ones I can think of). Roach and his writers succeed because they turn the story into something uniquely their own, without losing the core of the original. Indeed, as I recall, the Veber original was one of his lamer efforts -- which means that the Americans have improved upon it.

The premise remains the same: A group of high-powered executives gather on a monthly basis for a dinner, to which each is obliged to invite the biggest idiot he can find. The one with the biggest idiot wins. (Curiously, despite the barrier-breaking title, the word "schmuck" is never spoken.)

Roach and his writers have added a level of emotion that the original lacked. In this version, the central character is Tim (the invaluable Paul Rudd), an investment analyst at a high-powered L.A. firm who craves a raise and promotion. When he takes the initiative in pursuing a particularly wealthy client, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) invites him to the aforementioned dinner, which will serve as something of a proving ground.

But his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) disapproves and urges Tim not to attend -- even if it means losing the raise. She, meanwhile, is involved with a wildman artist (the hilarious Jemaine Clement), whose work she's shown at her gallery -- and whose show has now been selected for a museum show which she will curate.

Tim believes that the fates are speaking to him when he accidentally hits a pedestrian in Beverly Hills. The man in question is an IRS functionary named Barry (Steve Carell), who was standing in the street not paying attention to traffic because he was trying to grab a dead mouse. Barry, it turns out, creates dioramas of both historic and fictional scenes, using taxidermized mice (one of the film's most consistently witty and weird running gags).