Fun With Dick And Jane

on December 21, 2005 by Mark Keizer
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After spending 15 years punching the clock at Globodyne Corporation, Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) is named the company's new vice president of communications. Following a high-powered breakfast with Globodyne topper Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin), it looks like Dick and his wife Jane (Téa Leoni) will spend the rest of their lives knee-deep in plasma screen TVs and heated towel racks.

Dick's first assignment as new VP is to appear on a live, CNBC-style business program. And in the only funny scene in this unfunny remake of 1977's "Fun with Dick and Jane," Dick is ambushed, told by the host that McCallister has scuttled the company for his own personal gain. As Dick fumfers on live TV, there's a humorous graphic showing the freefall of Globodyne's stock price. He then returns to his upper-middle class tract home unemployed, yet confident he can find another job.

That's the set-up of Dean Parisot's take on the George Segal/Jane Fonda original. It's not much, portending only pleasant, middle-of-the-road smiles. But soon after, as the couple becomes so cash-strapped they go on a crime spree, the film loses its rudder. The script, co-written by Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year Old Virgin"), can't decide whether to take the story seriously and the let the humor come from character, or just roll out a litany of over-the-top set-pieces more appropriate had the Harpers lived on Planet Wacky. It tries a bit of both, with the comedic tone shifting as if through a Crazy Straw. Some of these moments might have worked had the film chosen to simply be ridiculous. The shot of a soapy Harper family bathing in the neighbor's sprinklers or the sequence where Jane's face balloons after a disastrous medical experiment are only unfunny because they're incongruous with everything around them. When Dick and Jane finally grab their son's water pistol and start robbing banks and convenience stores, they dress up in silly costumes, which are merely bargain-basement laughs provided by filmmakers who should all be aiming higher.

The movie also suffers from bad timing. The Enron and WorldCom scandals seem like yesterday's news, at least to those spending $10 for a good multiplex chuckle. Plus, the original took place in more economically precarious times, giving 1977 audiences something to root for. The new film takes place in 2000 (as the Gore/Lieberman posters remind us), too long ago for the movie to feel "Daily Show" fresh, but not long enough to be a period piece. Thank goodness there are no Y2K jokes.

Jim Carrey, possibly by virtue of his producer credit, tries very hard. But this $100 million vehicle is stuck in the mud and no matter how hard he guns it with frantic frivolity, he's just spinning his wheels. Leoni hasn't learned much from her haywire performance in "Spanglish." She's less annoying here than in the James L. Brooks film, but she's still too external a comedic actress. The reinvention of Alec Baldwin as a vastly entertaining character actor continues apace, turning a nothing role into a better-than-nothing role, a gargantuan achievement similar to his microscopic turn in "Elizabethtown."

"Fun with Dick and Jane" seems proud of its satirical association with the recent corporate scandals. But the movie wants the credit without doing the work. No matter how much Globodyne reminds us of Enron, it's a passing reference containing no comedic bite. As anyone within arms reach of a movie magazine knows, the production was plagued by cost overruns and reshoots, usually a sign of desperation So it's no surprise that the film feels desperate and underrealized. Starring Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni and Alec Baldwin. Directed by Dean Parisot. Written by Judd Apatow & Nicolas Stoller. Produced by Brian Grazer and Jim Carrey. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for brief language, some sexual humor and occasional humorous drug references. Running time: 90 min

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