Dick and Jane Harper (Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni) are a well-to-do, dual income, upper middle class couple working hard to keep up with the Joneses. Things get even better when Dick is promoted to the Vice-President of Communications at Globodyne Corporation. His first assignment is to appear on business TV as the spokesman for the company where he learns that his boss, Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin), has absconded, in Enron-like fashion, with the company pension fund. And, Jane has burned all her bridges when she suddenly quits her job. The couple tries everything legally possible to pay the bills until they hit rock bottom. Then, it’s “Fun With Dick and Jane.”
This story about an honest, hardworking couple that, out of desperation, turn to a life of crime, was first brought to the screen in 1977 with Jane Fonda and George Segal as the title pair. Never a fan of Fonda, I only found the earlier comedy mildly amusing with its stars miscast in their roles. So, when I heard about the remake, with Carrey and Leoni, I was hopeful that the results would be, at least, madcap.
The results, led by helmer Dean Parisot, who premiered with the sleeper hit, “Galaxy Quest,” are silly (in a good way) and slapstick. Using the script by Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller, Parisot tells the updated parable of paradise lost as Dick rides high, very briefly, on his new promotion just to see his frail house of cards come tumbling down. Suddenly, he and Jane find their good life coming apart at the seams when both are without jobs and the little money they have is fast dwindling.
When Globodyne goes under, due to the greedy machinations of CEO McCallister, the Harpers (and the rest of the employees) lose everything – their savings were in the company’s now-worthless stock and McCallister’s wheeling and dealing plundered their retirement fund. Tightening their collective belt and cutting expenses is not enough and the newly depressed local economy means no jobs are available. No jobs, no money. No money, then foreclosure.
Desperate, now, to save their home, Dick comes up with a plan – stick up a convenient store using his son’s water pistol. Jane insists on tagging along on the mission and the only thing Dick gets is a Slurpee that he took without paying. Dick really needs Jane’s help if they are going to pull this off. They get better and better at their new vocation, becoming a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. Things are wrapped up in a politically correct manner when D&J come up with a scheme to make McCallister pay for his greedy, life-ruining ways.
The first half of “Fun With Dick and Jane,” fully 45 minutes, is spent setting things up. This is the best part of the film as we see the Harpers “flying high in April, shot down in May.” Things start out innocently enough as Jane sees her gardener’s men rolling up their newly laid lawn and carting it away. Desperate to keep up appearances with her competitive neighbors, she loudly pretends that the destruction of the yard was her idea. It’s a good, broad bit of comedy by Leoni. The downward spiral of the Harpers’s life is evenly paced and funny in a that-could-be-me-but-thank-god-it-isn’t way.
The last half of “Fun With Dick and Jane” is roughly divided between the Harpers’s life of crime and their revenge against the cause of all their woes. The crime spree is more slapstick than the first half and the film begins to lose its urban edginess. Things like D&J dressing as Sonny and Cher (with Dick as Cher) for a robbery is silly funny and gets chuckles but not many laughs. The last part, as Jack gets his expected comeuppance, is a bland attempt to show the little guy fighting back against an Enron-type corporate debacle. This is the ho-hum part of the film, completely losing the comedic angst of the beginning.
Carrey and Leoni are better suited for this kind of comedy than Fonda and Segal. Carrey uses his physical comedy brilliance well enough but doesn’t do anything really special. Leoni throws caution to the wind when Jane agrees to take part in drug testing (for a whopping $14) of a botox-like treatment to disfiguring results. Leoni show good comic chops that work well with Carrey’s manic nature. Real supporting cast is minimal with Alec Baldwin phoning in his arrogant CEO performance. Richard Jenkins is reliable as the Globodyne CFO who may do time for his boss’s misdeeds, doing the drunk well.
Techs are adequate without calling attention.
At a time when some of the year’s best films are at the theaters it seems a waste of time to spend your money on something as lightweight as “Fun With Dick and Jane.” This is something that should have waited for the February doldrums when theatergoers are starved for entertainment. It’s an amusing remake – better than the first, but that’s not saying much – that gives a giggle or two thanks to Carrey and Leoni. I give it a C+.Laura:
Laura did not see this film.
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