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‘Schmucks’ is full of laughs

“Dinner for Schmucks” kills an awful lot of time getting around to its titular dinner. Like the French film (“The Dinner Game”) it is based on, “Schmucks” takes a leisurely gambol up to the party in which a bunch of arrogant rich each bring a dolt to dinner so they can mock them.

But like a four-star dessert at the end of a hit-or-miss, four-course meal, the finale is worth the wait.

Paul Rudd stars as Tim, a go-getter at his investment firm, a sixth-floor “analyst” ready to move up to the top floor and make the deals to pay for his Porsche and art-dealer girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak). The boss (Bruce Greenwood) may be interested. But Tim must pass a test. He needs to meet and recruit a dope — the bigger the dope the better — for the company’s monthly dinner party, the “Dinner for Schmucks.”

Tim is still weighing the moral implications (the girlfriend doesn’t approve) of this when — thump — he bowls over a dazzling candidate with his car. Barry, played by Steve Carell with a vacant stare and a malignant giggle, was in the street to “save” a dead mouse. He stuffs them, dresses them up and poses them in dioramas.

And lest you think he’s simply certifiable, he’s got a job (as an IRS agent) and was once married. He just wears clip-on ties and a windbreaker, cannot pick up a social signal for the life of him, mis-remembers song lyrics and butchers the language (“I’m an eternal optometrist!”).

And because Tim believes “everything happens for a reason,” it’s a date. His accident victim will be his guest at dinner. But Barry shows up a day early and proceeds to wreak havoc. In a day, Tim has lost his girlfriend, had his car and apartment trashed, faces an IRS audit and has almost lost the deal that got him the promotion in the first place.

All this and the dinner hasn’t even been served.

Director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents”) keeps the tone more naughty than raunchy. He doesn’t fret over the film’s sluggish pacing. The overlong opening credits set us up for a movie that takes a while to get up to speed.

But, my stars and garters — the laughs, friends. The laughs build and build, and the little character turns by everyone from “Little Britain’s” David Walliams (as a dorky Swiss millionaire) and “Flight of the Conchords”’ Jemaine Clement (as a pretentious, dim and oversexed artiste) to Octavia Spencer (as a psychic who talks to dead pets and the lobsters that are the main course at dinner) are an embarrassment of comic riches.

And as funny at playing the kind-of-innocent/kind-of-obnoxious game as Carell can be, wait until Zach Galifianakis shows up. The breakout star of “The Hangover” is the icing on this dessert cart — a demented believer in his powers of “mind control” whose delusion is fed by Barry, who believes this guy really does control his mind.

“Demented” works for the whole movie, from its bizarro art show and performance art stunts (featuring Clement) to the crazed and kinky ex-girlfriend (Lucy Punch, a scream) to the vast collection of Barry’s twisted little “mouseterpieces.”

The situations are painstakingly set up and downright painful to sit through. So enjoy, or endure the appetizers, because with this Dinner, dessert is truly the topper.

Three stars

Cast: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Lucy Punch, David Walliams

Director: Jay Roach

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language