Fun with Dick and Jane

by

Finally, Jim Carrey’s found a way to add some brains — and some bite — to his usual big dumb blockbuster comedies. The original Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) was a proto-yuppie fantasy in which Jane Fonda and George Segal stole from duplicitous rich folks to fund their indulgent lifestyle. Satirizing everyone in general and no one in particular, the original had some memorable moments, but didn’t quite work as either madcap farce or social commentary.

Now, Carrey’s gotten hold of the tale, and has turned it into a broad and goofy — but surprisingly pointed — riff on the corporate criminals of today. Michael Moore would be proud. The new Dick and Jane are more sympathetic heroes: Dick (Carrey) and Jane Harper (Téa Leoni) are living beyond their means, but no more so than any other middle-class Californians. Nestled in their cookie-cutter suburban home, they’d like to get an in-ground pool and posh new BMW, sure, yet they’re too sensible to go on any sort of spending spree.

But when Dick gets promoted at his high-tech, high-pressure company, Globodyne, the Harpers indulge in all the luxuries they once denied themselves. Jane even quits her thankless job as a travel agent to stay home and take care of her son, who’s spent so much of his formative time with their housekeeper-nanny that he speaks fluent Spanish.

Their prosperity, however, is short-lived. As his CEO Jack McCallister (a terrifically slimy Alec Baldwin) makes a speedy helicopter exit, Dick learns he’s been promoted just so he can be the fall guy for Globodyne’s shady, Enron-like accounting. With the company belly-up and his pension check nonexistent, Dick and Jane resort to desperate measures: greeting customers at a Costco-style superstore, battling illegal immigrants for house-painting jobs, bathing in the neighbors’ sprinklers. It’s enough to drive an honest man to crime, and so Dick and Jane become bumbling, polite — and surprisingly successful — suburban bandits.

The first hour of the film is packed with truly inspired lunacy. Director Dean Parisot (the underrated Galaxy Quest) and writers Nicholas Stoller and Judd Apatow (this summer’s brilliant 40-Year-Old Virgin) flesh out the original film’s premise, lavishing as much attention on Dick and Jane’s absurd attempts to find employment as they do on their Starbucks run-and-gun missions. Parisot leaves plenty of room for Carrey’s usual mugging and exaggerated physical shtick, but the antics are never at the expense of his character.

The film does lose some momentum when Dick and Jane plan an elaborate heist of McCallister’s bank account, but even in these sequences, it maintains a near-perfect balance of belly laughs and subversive commentary. Whether it’s the snippets of Dubya press conferences that pop up on Dick and Jane’s television, or the “special thanks” to Enron, Tyco and Adelphia in the credits, Carrey and company are determined to take as many shots at right-wing greed as possible. While watching fat-cat McCallister do a CNN interview during a hunting trip, Dick comments, “Everybody’s in hell and he’s on vacation, shooting stuff,” a line that neatly summarizes the state of the nation today.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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