In the End, You Can Have 'Fun With Dick and Jane'
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
"Fun With Dick and Jane" first came out in 1977, and starred Jane Fonda and George Segal in what would become a sort of '70s period piece, a comedy saturated in the look and particular anxieties of its era. The remake, which stars Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni as an overextended upwardly mobile California couple, has continued in that tradition, and for the first hour it captures with breezy humor and quick, goofy vignettes the angst of the upper-middle manager at the turn of the 21st century.
Dick and Jane Harper live in a suburban cul-de-sac amid identical houses with swimming pools and flat-screen TVs. They're McMansion millionaires, with their assets tied up in an overpriced, underbuilt house and a fat pension plan with Dick's company, an amorphous global consortium called Globodyne.
Dick is Globodyne's brand-new vice president of communications, and his first task is to be a guest on a Lou Dobbs-like cable financial show. As he's fielding questions from the host and getting ambushed by Ralph Nader (who plays himself as only he can), the ticker across the screen announces the falling price of Globodyne's stock, the departure of its CEO and its final crash and burn. It's a cleverly choreographed scene of corporate death by news crawl. (And, in one of many note-perfect nods to the movie's time period, Dick's flameout on national television becomes the subject of a Jib Jab video.)
Meanwhile, Jane has decided to quit her job as a travel agent, so by the close of business on Dick's first day as VP, they're both unemployed. It takes a few months -- of Dick looking for work alongside other desperate white-collar refugees and finally becoming a greeter at a Wal-Mart-type superstore, of Jane trying to be an exercise instructor and then a cosmetics test subject, of their lawn being repossessed -- before Dick hits on the idea of stealing. While he's trying on sunglasses and explaining his plan to Jane, she makes a suggestion through disastrously over-Botoxed lips: "Maybe you should steal some Prozac."
From its trailer and marketing campaign, "Fun With Dick and Jane" looks like one of those instant forgettables that a studio plops into theaters in the middle of the busy season, with hopes that they will disappear quietly. But it turns out to be better than that, especially during the run-up to Dick and Jane's crime spree, when the movie clicks along with giddy, contagious good humor. (There's a particularly hilarious running gag involving Dick and Jane's son Billy, who speaks with a Spanish accent courtesy of his ever-present nanny and screams "Don't take my Telemundo!" when his parents sell the TV.)
True, there's a surfeit of scenes in which Carrey mugs and japes shamelessly for the camera, one of the dangers of a movie's star also being a producer. Indeed, there are moments in "Fun With Dick and Jane," which was co-written by Judd Apatow, when it seems to be a better vehicle for the more understated style of Steve Carell, the star of Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
But for the most part, "Fun With Dick and Jane" is a no-brainer with a brain, the sort of light, inoffensive comedy that's ideal for those days when you want to do your tough sledding outside the theater. (Its modest charms seem to have been calibrated to the last sight gag to soothe and amuse frazzled mall shoppers.) Leoni, who proved to be such a comic gem in "Spanglish," here does yeoman work as Carrey's straight person, toning down her neurotic-blonde persona and being a good sport in everything from those painfully swollen prosthetic lips to a Hillary Clinton mask. Dick and Jane also impersonate Sonny and Cher and the Blues Brothers as they gain confidence in the crime world, going from sticking up coffee shops and sushi joints to masterminding sophisticated heists at bigger and bigger banks.
But most of the humor in "Fun With Dick and Jane" derives less from the capers themselves than from the setup and its time frame of the year 2000, when Bush was still running against Gore and no one had yet heard of Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers or Richard Scrushy. (Who along with their corporate companions are conspicuously thanked in the movie's closing credits.)
Dick's Globodyne boss, played with a hearty good-ol'-boy twinkle by Alec Baldwin, is such an on-the-nose evocation of Lay that the movie's final punch line is an anticlimax. Still, the title characters' last heist brings with it a sense of Robin Hood satisfaction, and it's clear that, even as an instant forgettable, "Fun With Dick and Jane" has lived up to its title: It's fun, and that's fine.
Fun With Dick and Jane (90 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for brief profanity, sexual humor and occasional humorous drug references.