When Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) is terminated as Globodyne Corporation’s VP of Communications, he assures his wife, Jane (Téa Leoni), he’ll find another job in no time. Months later, their lawn is repossessed, Jane has sold her body to science, and Dick’s career as a day laborer ends with his deportation to Mexico. Madder than ever and not going to take it anymore, Dick and Jane turn to the fastest-growing sector in the white-collar job market – armed robbery – as they become upscale suburban Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor…namely themselves.
eyelights: the well-conceived update.
eyesores: the contrived third act.
“Our lawn was repossessed today. I didn’t know they could even do that.”
‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ is a remake of a 1976 film starring George Segal and Jane Fonda. The 2005 version stars Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni and, despite weak reviews, was a hit at the box office. The movie updates the story for modern times, setting it one year before the Enron scandal to comment on corporate (ir)responsibility (it even goes so far as to list some Enron executives in the Special Thanks section of the closing credits).
I hadn’t intended to see the picture. By 2005, the bloom was off the rose and I didn’t like Carrey as much. I was enjoying his more substantial efforts, like ‘The Truman Show‘, ‘Man on the Moon‘ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘, but by returning to poorly-written mass-market comedies I felt that he was losing credibility fast. However, a friend gave me the DVD for my 2012 birthday and, heck, I decided that I might as well.
I had already seen the original, so I had a point of reference. And, although I enjoyed the new version and felt it was a respectful update, somehow it had left me dissatisfied. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it exuded an overall vibe of second-tier filmmaking, of something catering to the masses but lacking the cleverness and/or spark that makes certain movies great. And others, not so great. I had a few laugh, yet quickly shelved it.
I couldn’t even bother with watching the extras.
It’s strange, because this version of ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ is indeed more fun than the original. Whereas the other was a more subtle comedy eliciting spare chuckles, this one got a few good laughs out of me. Thank Jim Carrey for this, since he was able to draw a lot more out of the material than most actors could – and because the film was surely adapted for his abilities, making the humour more zany and physical.
A perfect example of this is when Dick, desperate to find a job after his former employers went under, leaving his family financially vulnerable, applies to a job that dozens of others are vying for. When he realizes that he has competitors, he makes a mad dash from the parking area into the building, followed by the others, who are a beat behind. As he tries to rush to the front of the line, he finds all sorts of impediments for them.
This type of manic humour would never have taken place in the previous film. It could never have taken place, both because George Segal wouldn’t have been able to do it, but also because it would have been an ill-fit, tonally. In this version, part of the comedy rests on the extremes that Dick will go to in order to provide and/or hold onto the lifestyle that his family have been accustomed to; it crosses over into the realm of the absurd.
This is a double-edged sword, of course, in that some of it gets perhaps a bit too zany to be credible. A perfect example of this is when the family goes out to shower in their neighbours’ sprinklers, serves themselves towering plates full of food at 3$ buffets or pay the nanny by giving her their appliances. It’s technically possible, but this would only happen if the lot of them were desperate enough to fully shed their pride, if not their dignity.
With time one gets the impression that this is the case, as Dick is forced to apply for work at Kost-Mart and Jane winds up taking a gig as an athletic instructor even though she’s unqualified. Eventually, this devolves into Dick trying to get clandestine work and Jane being a guinea pig for beauty products, so when they turn to a life of crime to pay the bills, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched – they’d devolved enough to be capable of anything.
Their crime spree is naturally played up for laughs. After a few pathetic attempts, they gain confidence and become brazen enough to rob places in costumes, sometimes in drag. One of my favourite bits is when these two hipsters feel compelled to rob a coffee shop to get their lattes and baked goodies. Ha! Nice priorities! In any case, the robberies not only save their home, it also rekindles and saves their relationship.
It’s all silly good fun for the first two-thirds, but then the picture drops the ball in the last third: the ending is far too implausible (what with the whole bank thing, which has them improvising a last minute plan when their original falls through – and no one notices what they are up to). And the way that his former boss (Alec Baldwin) gives in when they set the press conference for him is ridiculous; as if he’d let go of 400 million so easily.
‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ has its moment, though, and the main cast is decent enough (Carrey is predictably solid, Téa Leoni gives off a generic Jennifer Aniston-like vibe, and Alec Baldwin is appropriately smug). It sure looks like they must have had a blast making it, but it doesn’t fully translate onto the screen for some reason. I really can’t quite put my finger on the reason why. It could, perhaps even should, have been a bit better.
But one could certainly do worse, and there are a few decent laughs to be had.
Date of viewing: July 4, 2015