Fun with Dick and Jane (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Have you ever gone through the painful experience of watching someone who was once good at something try to recapture their past glory? It can be in sports, acting, writing, or any number of vocations. That's the dubious opportunity Fun with Dick and Jane offers viewers. Jim Carrey tries to turn back the clock and venture into Ace Ventura mode, without realizing that he's no longer the comedian he was a dozen years ago. In the interim, he has matured to the point where we no longer accept him in this kind of role. (Even Adam Sandler, Carrey's heir apparent, has moved into more serious pictures.) Stranger still, the film contains dark undercurrents and elements of melodrama that clash with Carrey's attempts to resurrect the zaniness and physicality of his past. Much of the film's comedy feels muted; Fun with Dick and Jane isn't a lot of fun.

There was a time when Carrey could guarantee a huge opening day box office, but Fun with Dick and Jane, a re-make of the 1977 film starring George Segal and Jane Fonda, is just another disposable end-of-the-year comedy thrown into multiplexes. The backstory has changed from the original. That one was about upwardly mobile yuppies keeping up with the Joneses. This one is about corporate greed and how the collapse of a corporation impacts its loyal employees. If that doesn't sound like funny material to you, you have identified the primary problem with Fun with Dick and Jane. The tone is wildly uneven. It's a message movie with a revenge fantasy third act. Try as they might, Carrey, director Dean Parisot, and screenwriters Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller can't inject enough worthwhile humor into the mix to keep this enjoyable.

This is Enron lite. If you want a lesson about the reverberations of Enron's collapse, see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Distilling that real-life tragedy into the basis of a comedy feels a little unseemly. I don't think the filmmakers set out to be insensitive, but when a movie like this doesn't work, that's how it seems. Carrey is trying to get us to sympathize with the Enron victims, but Fun with Dick and Jane never strikes the right balance, and it's hard to see someone who lost everything in real life enjoying himself/herself while watching this movie.

Carrey plays Dick Harper, the newly appointed VP of Communications at a mega-corporation that's on its last legs. In the span of a day, Dick goes from a man with a bright future to a man without a job. The CEO, Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin), has taken the money and run, leaving his CFO, Frank Bascom (Richard Jenkins), to take the fall. Thousands of employees like Dick are out of work and have lost their savings and pension. Dick's wife, Jane (Téa Leoni), has recently quit her job, so the two are unemployed - and, late in the year 2000 (when the movie is set), gaining employment is a tough thing. Item-by-item, the Harpers sell their possessions, until they have nothing left. The utility companies cut them off, then the bank decides to foreclose. Desperate times call for desperate measures - and that means turning into two of the most inept outlaws the country has ever seen. But a jolt of reality convinces Dick to go after the big fish, and play Robin Hood with Jack McCallister's ill-gotten profits.

Carrey's antics give the appearance of someone out of practice trying too hard. They're more awkward than funny. His body's not as plastic at age 43 as it was at age 32. Téa Leoni is okay as Dick's wife, but the two share no chemistry. One gets the sense that she's supposed to be Carrey's "straight man," but they never connect in a way that allows this to work. Maybe that's why so many of the jokes seem "off."

In striving for inspiration, Fun with Dick and Jane discovers moments of cleverness, but there aren't enough of them, nor are they sustained. The movie's first third is its strongest. Once Dick loses his job, the film enters a prolonged death spiral. Watching Dick and Jane's social status disintegrate is more sad than amusing, and the final act (a sit-com style caper) belongs in a different movie. The funniest scene during the final 60 minutes involves Dick "sticking up" an acquaintance. It's worth a giggle or two - if its comedic impact hasn't been killed by its prominence in trailers and TV ads. But isn't that always the case - the best scenes are used for advertising? And, in a case like Fun with Dick and Jane, that doesn't leave much for viewers who pay to see the movie.

Fun with Dick and Jane (United States, 2005)

Director: Dean Parisot
Cast: Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, Alec Baldwin, Richard Jenkins
Screenplay: Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller
Cinematography: Jerzy Zielinski
Music: Theodore Shapiro
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2005-12-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1