Dick Harper: Jim Carrey
Jane Harper: Tea Leoni
Jack McCallister: Alec Baldwin
Frank Bascom: Richard Jenkins
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Dean Parisot. Written by Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller and Peter Tolan. Running time: 90 min. Rated PG-13 (for brief language, some sexual humor and occasional humorous drug references).
My wife is often a good barometer as to how successful a film is, especially in the situational comedy genre where my own particular brand of movie snobbishness might not lend myself to be the best judge. She has a couple of key phrases that I look for but require interpretation for those not aware of her inability to say anything negative about work that other people have put their time into. “It was O.K,” means they failed miserably. “That was fun,” means she really liked it. And “That was cute,” means they put in a really good effort and she wanted to like it, but in the end something was missing. Fun with Dick and Jane falls into the latter category of her rating system.
Fun with Dick and Jane, a remake of the 1977 comedy starring Jane Fonda and George Segal, stars Jim Carrey (Limony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Tea Leoni (Spanglish) as Dick and Jane Harper, a couple which turns to petty crime to keep up with the Joneses when their careers take a nose dive. With Carrey grabbing two paychecks as the star and one of the film’s producers, much of the movie acts merely as a stage on which Carrey is given free reign to practice his own flavor of physically comedic antics. Not that this is always a bad thing, but there are a number of situations for which no explanation of the plot is necessary that seem created solely for the purpose of letting Carrey do his shtick. There is the lip-synced song and dance in the elevator, the imitation of a marionette puppet, the voice altering microphones (which he uses to improvise a performance of the Styx song “Mr. Roboto”), and the electro-shock dog collar gag that was done much better in a beer commercial from a few years back.
The film alternates between these uninspired comedic setups and some great ideas. The writing team stumbles upon a stroke of genius when their update of the material places Dick in the surprise position of spin doctor for an Enron-type Fortune 500 company just as their stock falls to pennies per share. They utilize this set up well in placing the stars in a position of desperation and to shore things up for the film’s climax, but the in-between period doesn’t provide enough about the breadth of victims these corporate raiders leave in their wake nor do they make any connection of the corporation style of crimes and the petty crime to which Dick and Jane find themselves stooping. With Jane pulling her weight at the beginning of the film as a travel agent, my wife also found the jokes about dealing with travel clients to be quite humorous and not quite as exaggerated as many might assume.
Alec Baldwin (The Aviator)’s own skill as a comedic heavy is utilized as Jack McCallister, the CEO of the company who sets Dick up as the fall guy along with company CFO Frank Bascom (Richard Jenkins, North Country). Eventually, Dick and Jane and Frank hatch a scheme to get the $400 million Jack squirreled away from the employees of his company. The movie could have sustained itself under this plot and the other crimes perpetrated by Dick and Jane getting to this point, but director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) and the other filmmakers are not interested in having Dick and Jane’s antics supported by plot so much as they are interested in putting them in awkward situations such as their attempts to make lower entries into the job market with Dick botching a job as a greeter at Costco and Jane trying to teach a martial arts class of a discipline she can’t even pronounce let alone know anything about. There is also an unnecessary extended sequence where Dick is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and must sneak his way back across the U.S./Mexico boarder after being deported.
Promotional materials have stated that the only sequence retained from the ‘77 Fun with Dick and Jane, unseen by me, is a sequence involving the repossession of their lawn. Dick proceeds to make a patchwork lawn out of pieces he steals from his neighbors’ lawns and a golf course. That patchwork lawn works well as a metaphor for the movie itself. Those lawn pieces are a funny bit; but they never really connect with each other, and if you aren’t careful to only look at those pieces of grass you are likely to see the bare earth that lies beneath them. I want to say I liked this movie because I laughed and enjoyed watching two gifted comedic actors spend an hour and a half making fools of one another, but the patchwork material they are working with just doesn’t hold together in the end. The saddest part is that the biggest laugh came in the form of the scrolling credits at the end of the film where the filmmakers thanked Ken Lay of Enron and CEO’s from many other corporations that recently when defunct through scandal, such as World Com and Tyco. Even sadder is that my wife and I were the only two during that teen dominated Friday night audience that even had the slightest clue that it was a joke.