Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Fun with Dick and Jane

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 22, 2005

Directed by Dean Parisot/screenplay by Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller/starring Jim Carrey, Tea Leoni, Alec Baldwin, Richard Jenkins, Angie Harmon/Columbia Pictures – Imagine Entertainment

A yuppie couple turns to crime after a corporate bailout leaves them unemployed and incapable of maintaining their lifestyle.

I’ve never actually seen the original 1977 Fun with Dick and Jane (I know, shame on me), so this is one remake I was able to walk into with no preconceived notions. From what I understand, the original is kind of an odd little film set against the backdrop of the economic slump of the late ‘70’s, but the filmmakers and studio thought the material was ripe for a remake given our current financial situation.

However, the remake is set in the year 2000, in a climate of corporate malfeasance and financial irresponsibility (to say the least) that suddenly left thousands of employees without jobs or pensions, and resulted in the responsible CEO’s being indicted – too bad most of them got off scot-free. It’s here that we find Dick Harper (Carrey), an up-and-comer at something called the Globodyne Corporation (we never find out what it is they actually do there, and the fact that it doesn’t matter may be the whole point) who believes he’s about to be promoted. Instead, he’s left hung out to dry as the public spokesman for a rapidly dissolving company in the midst of a rather heinous crash, while the company president Jack McAllister (Baldwin) sets up his obsequious V.P. (Jenkins) as the patsy and makes off with $400 million. Too bad Dick just convinced his wife Jane (Leoni) to quit her job, huh?

Dick and Jane are, for lack of a better term, utterly screwed. After a couple of months in which Dick suffers a series of misfortunes in his quest to find steady work, and Jane goes so far as to loan herself out for medical experiments, they finally become desperate enough to steal to pay their bills. After all, as they rationalize to each other, they’re only following the lead of the corporate criminals Dick used to work for, right?

It’s a situation that’s ripe for satirical humor, and the writers (including Apatow, the director and co-writer of The 40-Year-Old Virgin) do their best to explore those possibilities, while at the same time providing a vehicle for Carrey to do his patented wacky shtick. The result is a movie that works only in fits and starts, however, and doesn’t go nearly far enough with the subject to be a truly inspired satire.

A large part of the problem is that Dick and Jane feels like it was rather heavily cut down from a more expansive version (as has been reported) to fit a lean 90-minute running time. Evidence of this can be found by the brief appearances of well-known actors like Harmon and Laurie Metcalf (who isn’t even credited), who are barely in the finished movie and are given so little to do that it doesn’t even seem worth their time. Parts of the movie seem painfully rushed, making the slapstick seem forced at times, while more contemplative moments seem to drag on forever. There’s never a genuine sense of rhythm to the movie, and as much as people like to complain about long running times these days, this is one movie that feels like it could’ve used another 15 or 20 minutes to let its story play itself out. Some movies are meant to be short – this apparently wasn’t one of them. I’ll bet the DVD will contain at least 20 minutes of “deleted scenes”, and probably more than that.

Another problem is that the story switches gears so many times that there’s barely enough time for the writers to make their points in anything but the most broad way. The first third of the movie is devoted to Dick’s fall from grace, while the final third is given to Dick and Jane’s inevitable plot to steal from McAllister. Squeezed in between is the movie we actually came to see, where desperate Dick and Jane go on a crime spree in their own relatively safe, comfortable suburbanite way. It’s this part of the picture that works the best, and Carrey and Leoni display a nice chemistry with each other here that’s a bit lacking in the other sections. Watching these two boring yuppies, who are so repressed that they have to schedule sexual relations, discover their “wild side” by robbing the local Starbucks is easily the funniest part of the movie, and I couldn’t help but wish they had abandoned the whole McAllister subplot altogether and just stuck with that concept.

That said, Dick and Jane does manage to take some pointed shots at the increasing elusiveness of the American Dream, and how it’s become more and more difficult to “keep up with the Joneses”. Watching Dick “run” to find a job to keep his family afloat reminds us of just how frustrating it can be for all of us – not just those in the business world – to stay on the treadmill of modern life. There’s also some effective lampooning of corporate culture, where virtually identical businessmen in identical suits drive identical cars to fight tooth and nail just to be a cog in the corporate wheel. It’s all a bit absurd, no? Meanwhile, Dick and Jane’s young son is practically raised by their maid to the point where he primarily speaks Spanish (an idea that’s sharper than the entirety of Spanglish) and they seem to have no family or friends to speak of (except their neighbors, who they both despise and envy). Yet they maintain the constant struggle to stay in “the good life”. Ironic, you think?

I appreciated all of that subtext – I just wished the damn thing were funnier. While Carrey is given plenty of opportunity to do his rubber-faced physical shtick as Dick slowly loses his grip, there are few real laugh-out-loud moments here, much less any real belly-laughs. I almost wished he had played the role “straight”, because as likable as he is here, he often seems to be fighting the urge to break character completely, and it’s more distracting than compelling. He comes off like a demented version of Darren from Bewitched (the TV show, not the movie), and even when it’s funny, it’s not always appropriate for the part. After her excruciating turn in Spanglish, Leoni is surprisingly loose and appealing here (I never thought I’d be able to watch her without cringing again), and Baldwin does yet another variation on his now-patented smarmy-asshole boss role, this time playing it as a bizarre combination of George W. Bush (come on, tell me I’m wrong) and Foghorn Leghorn. Reliable character actor Jenkins provides his usual solid comic presence as well.

In spite of the cast’s best efforts though, Dick and Jane winds up as a mild comedy with only intermittent moments of real inspiration. It’s always pleasant to sit through, but maybe that’s the problem – it could have used a little more dark humor and a sense of genuine danger. It might have actually worked better five years ago, when corporate crime was constantly in the headlines (and people were rightfully pissed off about it) – now it unfortunately feels a bit dated, in the wake of issues like terrorism and a corporate war that isn’t taking care of it (oops, caught me editorializing again). And while it’s always vaguely satisfying to see the bad guys get what’s coming to them, it feels a bit disingenuous here coming from the likes of Sony Corporation (not that that’s the filmmakers’ fault, but do we really need Hollywood spending multimillions to tell us how sinister the business world is?). Good intentions are fine, but coming from the studio that spent $100 million-plus on Stealth, I have to wonder if their executives wouldn’t bail themselves out at the first opportunity and leave its employees high and dry. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in Hollywood, that’s all I’m saying.

**1/2 12/22/05

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