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FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (PG-13) (2005)

Sony Pictures

Official Site

Director: Dean Parisot

Producers: Brian Grazer, Jim Carrey

Written by: Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller, Peter Tolan

Cast: Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, Richard Jenkins, Alec Baldwin

Rating:


I just watched two versions of this riches-to-rags-to-ripoffs flick—this one, and the original 1977 treatment with Jane Fonda and George Segal. One, if so inclined, might thus quip that I’ve had twice the “Fun With” the eponymous suburbanites-turned-stickup-artists. Lamentably, though, that’s not as much “fun” as might be expected.

Dick and Jane Harper, in both scripts, are fine, friendly, enviable citizens, resting on the northernmost reaches of upper middle class. Jim Carrey’s Dick (heh heh) works for mega-firm Globodyne (which may as well be called EvilCorp); Segal’s is an aerospace engineer, a few years post-moon-landing. Téa Leoni’s Jane is a travel agent, while Fonda’s, in very un-Fonda style, is a housewife. Carrey drives a Beamer, Segal drives a Caddy. Things seem considerably better than okay. And then, they’re not. In the ’77 incarnation, Dick unceremoniously gets the ax from his smarmy boss (a liquored-up Ed McMahon, of all people) as a result of cutbacks to a once-thriving industry that has now fallen out of favor. Simple. Wham bam. Flash forward, and the fall of Dick, ’05 model, is a bit more convoluted—he receives a long-awaited promotion, only to find that the corporation has been run into the ground, Enron-style, by Despicable Boss v.2.0, Alec Baldwin (playing a milder, more shoddily-written imitation of his ticklingly demented role on “Will and Grace”). Gradually, in both universes, things land in parallel toilets, and we get to the primary shtick of both pieces: bumbling, once-rich white folks turning less-than-nimbly to a life of crime.

Here, for a while, will end the comparisons between the two pictures, to the benefit of the latter. You look at who’s involved here besides Carrey—Baldwin, Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin, television’s “The Critic”), the often-cool Leoni—and you think, “Well, this’ll be silly, certainly, but maybe it’ll be all right.” And while Eternal Sunshine and the like experiments may not have sold everyone, even the Carrey of Bruce Almighty can still wrest a few laughs from an unwilling audience. Problem is, Bruce had Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, and Jennifer Aniston to fall back on when familiar Carrey-isms began to chafe. Fun’s got Leoni, occasional dashes of Baldwin, and not much else. Not to down these folks—at her comedic best, Leoni combines effective sarcasm with a spunky, pixie-ish charm and appeal, but is aided by better-written characters. And the inventive Baldwin, whom I like more and more, tries to liven things up with an oddish Texas twang, but he ultimately isn’t given much to do.

Okay, now for the delicate stuff. I’ve always had a discomfiting combination of awe and sympathy concerning Jim Carrey. He is, I think, the most brilliant and gifted physical comedian we’ve seen since the mesmerizing days of the young Tom Hanks. And given the right material, he has been a steamrolling, jaw-dropping whirlwind of comedic virtuosity. Dumb And Dumber is spit-up-your-soup funny. Bite me, it is. And he still surprises me, occasionally. Things get touchy, though, when he tries to get versatile, and that’s when the clouds descend. It’s true, he has mounds and mounds of trouble with subtlety. Yes, he generally seems to do impressions of emotions rather than opening up and being truly vulnerable. Certainly, he often acts at people instead of with them, which can be irritating to watch. He seems to still be getting by, in many ways, as a very, very, very good sketch-comedy player. The thing is, I can’t help but root for him. He expends so much energy, puts so much into his performances, and seems to want attention and approval so badly. I’ve got a soft spot for established celebrities who awkwardly try to reinvent themselves and find limited or no success doing so. Kick me, but I think there’s a certain courage there. Remember Michael Jordan as a Birmingham Baron? Vince McMahon and the XFL? These endeavors hold special places in my heart. I don’t particularly want to watch them again, but I’m glad they happened. They are, I think, beautiful failures. People will call it hubris, but I think it owes something to the soul’s aversion to pigeonholing. That’s why I don’t have it in me to gratuitously trash Jim Carrey. Dustin Hoffman he ain’t, but he’s trying.

All that said, this is not a good movie. Too often, the script just hands things over to Carrey and asks him to riff, resulting in the sort of extended, multi-take bits that we’re used to seeing in the outtakes of past Carrey vehicles. These carry a mild “what’s he gonna do next” tension, but it fades. Such freelancing is entertaining in slapdash blooper reels, but it seems manufactured here, like the writer told himself, “Carrey’ll come up with something—I can skip this page and go make another mojito.” Their workhorse seems a little tired and resigned. There are a few gags that hit. I laughed as it was revealed that the Harpers’ kid, Billy, speaks with a Spanish accent from spending so much time with the maid. The film toys with issues of class, sex, and race (though not nearly as much as the Fonda version, in terms of the latter two), and leans heavily on the perceived perpetrators of the Enron/Arthur Anderson/whoever else debacles. But the script is so silly and all-over-the-place that it’s hard to get a handle on what it’s trying to be. It starts as screwball farce, later shifts periodically into a half-assed caper deal, and then tries to end things as a feel-good redemption tale/incisive social commentary piece. (One) problem is, the commentary has already been made—it’s widely accepted that the Enron guys are assholes. As for the rest of it, it’s just disorienting. And when they try to inject some unwarranted pathos-via-score into the woeful equation… sheesh.

Ultimately, the new Fun is not an improvement. The original is charming and funny; this “reimagining” is disorganized, weird, and lacks both (1) the writing of its predecessor and (2) Jane Fonda. I’d rather re-watch the 17-year-old version with Barbarella and Jack from “Just Shoot Me,” despite my affections for the top-turned-under-dog and (aw, screw it, I’ll tell) a minor screen-crush on Ms. Leoni that I’ve been nursing since Bad Boys. (No disrespect to either of the Duchovnys, lest I one day have to tell how Fox Mulder beat my ass.) Fun With Dick and Jane: Redux may not tank as badly as Enron or Globodyne did, but I wouldn’t call it a wise investment.

—Brian Villalobos

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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