Imagine that you work for a large, multibillion dollar corporation called Globodyne. After years of slaving away dutifully, you are finally promoted to Vice President of Communications. Your first act of business is to go on a cable news financial program, presumably to talk about how wonderfully the company is doing. The show’s host instead ambushes you with questions about how the CEO has suddenly cashed in a bunch of stock options and the feds are investigating. Your company, it turns out, is about to crash. You are left with nothing to say, and it becomes clear that you’ve been set up to take the fall. Pretty awful situation to imagine, huh? This is what exactly what happens to Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) in the comedy Fun with Dick and Jane.
Assuming that his promotion will be sufficient to cover all their expenses and then some, Dick convinces his wife Jane (Tea Leoni) to quit her job as a travel agent. The couple – along with son Billy – lives in an upscale neighborhood where keeping up with the Joneses is required. The news of his company’s crash therefore hits Dick hard. Things come to a head when their house is foreclosed upon and their front lawn is repossessed. Dick and Jane are forced to shower in their neighbors’ sprinklers to get clean. When the job market proves to be non-existent, the Harpers turn to a life of crime. Well, they try, at least. Holding up coffee shops and convenience stores turns out to be harder than they expected. Eventually they cross paths with Frank Bascom (Richard Jenkins), the former Chief Financial Officer of Globodyne. He tells them that there is a way to rip off Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin), the crooked CEO who walked away with millions while his employees lost their jobs, homes, and pensions. They work together to pull of a complicated revenge-driven heist.
Fun with Dick and Jane is a remake of a 1977 comedy that starred George Segal and Jane Fonda. (I remember my father taking me to see it when I was nine years old.) This remake, directed by Galaxy Quest’s Dean Parisot, updates the story a little bit by centering it around a distinctly Enron-like corporation and its Ken Lay-esque CEO. This automatically makes it a different, more adult-oriented Jim Carrey comedy. Kids are not likely to appreciate some of the topical humor or the ballsy, tongue-in-cheek end credit sequence in which the filmmakers thank Enron, Lay, and other corporate criminals for their inspiration. Adults, on the other hand, may get some chuckles out the subject matter, even though it feels somewhat dated.
At times, the humor is hit-or-miss. A montage of Dick and Jane committing robberies while dressed up as the Blues Brothers or Sonny and Cher is a little far-fetched. The theft of McCallister’s money also requires a pretty heavy suspension of disbelief. If it really was that easy to fool the staff of a multi-national bank, people would be doing it left and right.
Fortunately, Fun with Dick and Jane produces a handful of big laughs – big enough to make it worth a recommendation. Some of the scenes are silly-funny (like the sprinkler shower, or another in which the family attends an all-you-can-eat buffet). Still other scenes have wit and invention to them. There is a scene in which the Harpers decide to rob a head shop. The inside of the place is filled with so many black lights that the characters physically glow. (Hard to explain, hilarious to see.) I also laughed hard at Dick’s desperation over the repossessed front lawn. He tries to steal swatches of grass from his neighbors, which leads to a very funny bedroom sight gag.
Any Jim Carrey comedy rests on the star’s manic energy. It is in no short supply here. There are plenty of moments where the director simply cuts Carrey loose to do his thing. When Dick knows he’s being promoted, he sings “I Believe I Can Fly” while riding the elevator to the top floor. Carrey doesn’t just sing it, though; he throws his whole body into the performance. Later, Dick and Jane rob an acquaintance while wearing black leather costumes and speaking through voice-changing boxes. Carrey feeds off the weird little gizmo, improving all kinds of uses for it.
He’s hilarious, and Tea Leoni holds her own against him. Leoni has had an interesting career. She is often paired with comedians (Adam Sandler in Spanglish, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys, Woody Allen in Hollywood Ending) and she doesn’t get eaten up by them. I think Leoni is an underrated talent who knows how to play a character realistically while still being funny. She doesn’t call attention to herself, choosing instead to ground things while her co-stars ad-lib or chew the scenery.
Fun with Dick and Jane isn’t in the same league with Jim Carrey’s best flat-out comedies (Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar, or Me, Myself & Irene) and it certainly doesn’t have the ambition of his more exploratory films (The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). That said, the key word is in the film’s title: fun. There’s not necessarily a lot to it, but Fun with Dick and Jane made me laugh and have a good time.
( out of four)
Fun with Dick and Jane is rated PG-13 for brief language, some sexual humor and occasional humorous drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
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