Summer Sneaks: ‘Dinner for Schmucks’

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd want to make one thing clear: They’re not the second-coming of Laurel and Hardy.

“For one thing, I look horrible in a top hat,” Rudd deadpanned.

“I’m so glad you said something,” Carell joined in. “I didn’t want to tell you.”

Be that as it may, there’s no denying that anything this modern-day tag-team touches turns to slapstick gold. After they helped propel such films as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” into box-office hits, Carell and Rudd are teaming up again in Paramount’s “Dinner for Schmucks,” which hits theaters July 23.

A loose remake of the 1998 French comedy “Le dîner de Cons,” the film is about a group of colleagues vying for a career boost who gather for a monthly dinner hosted by their ruthless boss and compete to see who can bring the most pathetic and idiotic guest.

And you can bet there’s plenty to choose from. The guest-list reads like a modern circus freak show: There’s a blind swordsman, a pet psychic, a man with an epic beard, a ventriloquist with a flirtatious anatomically correct dummy that he creepily calls his “wife” and a vulture trainer — covered in scars and scrapes because, well, he’s clearly not good at his job. And, in true cruel form, none of the oddball attendees knows he’s the subject of merciless mocking.

Rudd plays Tim Conrad, a rising exec who learns that to secure a promotion he will have to attend the morally perverse dinner. When he literally runs into Barry (Carell) — a dullard IRS employee who likes to build dioramas using stuffed mice (“mouse-terpieces”) — with his car, it seems he’s found his buffoon.

“It’s amazing to watch them make it look so easy,” said the film’s director, Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents,” “Austin Powers”). “They’re completely smooth and effortless with their comedy … and it doesn’t hurt that they really like each other. There’s a chemistry there that really resonates on screen. It’s a bromance at its best.”

Seasoned members of the “Frat Pack” — the cinematic brotherhood whose members also include Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller — Carell and Rudd’s bromance has matured to the point where they don’t even need a script to finish each other’s sentences. In between takes of the dubious dinner scene — filmed at the real Wayne Manor mansion seen in the “Batman” TV series — the comedic duo demonstrated their level of intimacy when describing the film.

“Structurally, it reminds me a little of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ or ‘What About Bob,’” Rudd said. “The convention of two guys who … “

“Are mismatched but who … “

“Strike this unlikely friendship.”

“What are we, Siamese twins?”

“It’s like we’re Walter Matthau and John Lennon … wait,” Rudd paused. “That’s not right.”

“No, you’re right,” Carell reassured. “That was a fantastic couple. ‘Grumpy Old Beatles’ was a wonderful film.”

Geriatric male confusion aside, it’s that witty repartee that has helped them click at the box office, where they are juggernauts for the slapstick-hearted and with each other.

“It’s interesting because we were both working on other things, and Jay [Roach] wanted us to get together and rehearse more,” Carell said. “But we didn’t really have much opportunity to do that. But the first day on set, we just clicked. It was like riding a bike. I mean, we have a rapport with each other. We understand each other’s rhythms.”

Rudd echoed those sentiments in a brief moment of seriousness.

“There’s an ease between us and a familiarity,” he said. “Some of that has to do with the fact that we approach humor in kind of the same way. We’re less concerned with jokes than we are with the reality of the situation .... That all sounds so contrived, huh?”

He paused just long enough. A beat.

“Let me get my top hat.”

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