Last year was the Year of the Sequel and this year has definitely been the Year of the Remake, so I suppose it's fitting, this close to the new year, that we have Fun With Dick and Jane, an update of the 1977 flick with George Seagal and Jane Fonda. And who better to star in a movie that starts with "Fun" than Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni... umm, well 1 for 2 isn't too bad, I guess. While this remake does strike a chord with the corporate malfeasance cases early in the 21st Century, it does lack, well, fun.
We get a very playful tone in the movie's early moments, with a play on the "See Dick Run" things, and an upbeat score. All is well in suburbia for Dick Harper (Carrey) and his wife Jane (Tea Leoni). They're both successful professionals, Dick toiling away in middle management for Globodyne, a massive conglomerate and Jane works as a personal assistant of some sort. They have a beautiful home, a young son who is as fluent in Spanish as their housekeeper, and a foothold on the American Dream. Things get even brighter when Dick is promoted to VP of Communications, and with this new promotion, Jane, encouraged by Dick, quits her crappy job to spend more time with their son. But on Dick's first day as VP, things come a crumbling down. Similar to many companies of late, Globodyne tanks almost immediately, due to some shady practices by the higher-up's, and Dick soon realizes that his promotion was really just a red herring and they set him up as the fall guy for the whole company. After years of working their way up the corporate ladder, they're left with almost nothing, unable to find work due to their connection to the Globodyne scandal, and their lifestyle starts heading in a downward spiral. When they're about to lose their house, Dick hits the breaking point. Fed up with the system, Dick turns to a life of petty crime, and in similar fashion to his corporate career, starts working his way up the criminal ladder, in search of his ultimate revenge for a life of being a yes man.
Jim Carrey, who has been switch-hitting in both comedy and dramas in the past few years, turns in a decent but inconsistent performance here. He has readily honed his skills in dramatic acting, and the scenes that call for this, it truly shows. He has some nice range and control of his emotions in these scenes, but when it comes to the funny stuff, it seems like he may have lost a step. While some of this might be attribluted to the script, a lot of his humor just falls flat. There's a scene where he's in an elevator at Globodyne, just before he is to receive his big promotion, where, alone in the elevator, he just breaks into song, in true Carrey fashion, flailing about the box, trying to rekindle the physical humor that Carrey revolutionized in the 90s. The key word in that sentence is "trying." It's just not the same old Jim Carrey we used to know, with his head out the window while driving, or beating himself up in a bathroom. It seems that he's more prone to the subtle humor these days, and he does a fine job with those few instances here. But it felt like they just tried to cut him loose and bring back the old Carrey days and it just didn't work. As for his co-star, Tea Leoni, I've never been too big a fan of hers. Her work is consistently hollow, with no real feeling behind it, and she has been picking her roles of late that adhere to her style, most notably, housewives (See: The Family Man, Spanglish, etc.). She's basically just there because she has to be, and we don't really get much from her character at all. We do get a great supporting performance here from Alec Baldwin, who's been doing way too much supporting work lately because he's just too damn good in them and needs to be on the topline again. He plays Jack McCallister, the head of Globodyne who evaded the scandal and got away scott-free. We don't see a whole lot of him throughout the movie, but he has a great grasp of his character and he probably gives the best all-around performance in the movie. Watch for another solid supporting performance from Richard Jenkins, a Globodyne exec who helps out the Harpers.
The script here isn't that great, but it would've been a lot better if they could've decided on a clear-cut identity for this flick. We start out with a playful tone, hen turn to despair, then turn back to playful, in the early robbery scenes that just didn't feel right, then to vengance and then to redemption. They couldn't really decide if this was a comedy or a drama. It's real light-hearted at times, but very serious at other times, in a satirical way. Maybe it just felt that way because a lot of the comedy didn't really work, but it seemed like they tried to split the comedy and drama 50-50, right down the line and I don't think it worked too well. Writers Judd Apatow, fresh off writing and directing the marvelous The 40 Year Old Virgin, and Nicolas Stoller, do a great job in pace and structure of the movie, but a lot of the dialogue fell short and there were a few instances, right when the Harper's begin their downfall, that just weren't needed. There is a lengthy sequence where a very desperate Dick tries to get work with some Mexican immigrants doing paint jobs and the whole thing just winds out of control, with Dick being deported because he lost his wallet and he sounded like a Mexican becaue he took a punch in the jaw and was talking funny. It gets worse when he tries to call home, to prove he's an American, and his son answers the phone in Spanish. It was just plain ol' overkill, folks. They could've easily showed his despair by having him getting turned down for job after job, each one a lesser job than the next, but instead they have this elaborate scene that, in the end, doesn't really tell us anything new, or advance the story. We do get a great ending here, very smart and realistic, but it was too little, too late.
Director Dean Parisot, a TV veteran with only 2 feature films to his credit, doesn't do a bad job with the script he was given, but he doesn't set the world on fire either. He captures the essence of suburbia and corporate America rather nicely, but, like the script, it seemed like he was trying to do too many things at once, trying to cross over many genres and ending up with this hodgepodge of a movie. He even does a "Thank you" list comprised of all the major players in the corporate scandals we've seen in the past few years. If he wanted it to be a satire, it needed to be darker. If he wanted it to be a comedy, it needed to be lighter. You can't have your cake and eat it too, but he damn sure tries here.
Fun With Dick and Jane is a movie about the collapse of the American Dream, and what it can do to the average Joe. The comedy works on some levels, the satire works on some levels and the drama works on some levels. The problem is they all don't work on the same level.
Fun with Dick and Jane is out December 21, 2005.