‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ tries to update 1977 comedy, but fails

Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni are a husband and wife on a crime spree in 'Fun with Dick and Jane'
Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni are a husband and wife on a crime spree in ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’

Fun with Dick and Jane screenwriter Judd Apatow, fresh off of his big screen debut with The 40 Year Old Virgin runs into the sophomore jinx in this outing, and the efforts of noted director Dean Parisot (Home FriesGalaxy Quest) can’t help the film overcome a horribly weak script. That’s the simple explanation, but there is more. This is a remake of a wonderful film from 1977 that starred Jane Fonda (imagine, choosing Jane to play Jane, how original) and the underrated George Segal and the remake suffers by comparison.

Jim Carrey, who is a terrific talent, whether doing comedy or drama, is Dick Harper, rising star employee of Globodyne, who suddenly finds himself promoted to Vice President at just the right moment. Or is it. As he appears on a financial news program, unprepared to answer hard questions about the activities of his companies’ CEO and CFO (Alec Baldwin and Richard Jenkins) in handling the company’s balance sheets and assets, the stock value suffers a melt-down and suddenly the company is bankrupt and Harper, along with everyone else at the company is out of work.

If this sounds like Enron or Worldcom, the resemblance appears intentional and worse yet, Jane Harper (Téa Leoni, who stepped in when Cameron Diaz had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts) quits her job as a travel agent on the same day, due to Dick’s sudden promotion and impending affluence. Worse yet, the couple, who have a young son, apparently failed Financial Planning 101 and had all of their savings and retirement funds in the stock of Dick’s company which is now of course, worthless. So they are now unemployed, broke and in a major mess. Or as Jane says in the best line from the first trailer announcing the film, “We might be in a little bit of a pickle, Dick.”

Dick tries to find an equivalent job, but they just aren’t out there, or worse yet, he can’t get hired, thanks to his performance on television trying to answer for the misdeeds of his former CEO and CFO. When he finally lowers his standards about what kind of job he will take, both he and Jane are able to find work, but they are both less than successful in their endeavors with somewhat humorous results. Meanwhile, they are slowly sinking into poverty, as a joke from the original film is recycled when their lawn is repossessed. A beaten-up, banged-up Ford Festiva replaces their nice, leased BMW. I really laughed at the moment when they bought the Festiva, because it looked a lot like the one I used to own and who knows, maybe it was. Just as an aside, they may look stupid, like little roller skate cars, but it always started, ran great and the mileage it got was nothing short of incredible. However, aside from their pre-owned vehicle being dependable at this point, everything else is going wrong.

Eventually, with an eviction notice promising the loss of their home within 24 hours, Dick and Jane finally turn to crime. At first, with less than fruitful results, but eventually, like with all things, they improve with practice. There are some funny moments here, particularly as they learn to disguise their appearance while carrying out their crimes, so as to avoid being caught.

Soon, the lawn is back, and everything appears right with the world. To everyone else, it appears that the Harpers have simply recovered from some bad investing and are now doing well in the market. But a close call on what was to be their last “job” where Dick is nearly captured leads them to reconsider their criminality until they hear that Dick may be the next former Globodyne executive to be indicted.

I will leave what happens from this point on un-“spoiled”, for the enjoyment of the viewer, because there are some changes from the plot of the original film in how the villain receives his justice. It is worthy of note that like many re-makes, there are changes in the story that make no sense, and others that do. This remake is set in the year 2000 deliberately to take advantage of what happened with Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, etc, but comedies as message movies don’t send clear messages. That corporate greed and outright thievery are bad doesn’t need a good comedy message movie, people are already aware of such a basic concept.

Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni are very talented actors, but they are saddled with a script that just doesn’t do justice to the original material and the wonderful performances by the stars of that original work. That isn’t to say that the 2005 version of Fun with Dick and Jane is a bad movie, because it isn’t, it just is nowhere near as good as the material from which is was spawned. Carrey is a great comedic actor, but there is not a single scene in this movie that I found as funny as any number of simple, elegant moments in the original. Here is an example. In this exchange of dialogue, George Segal and Jane Fonda are arguing over the failed family finances:

Dick: You’re gonna get a job?
Jane: Yes, incredible as it may seem.
Dick: May I ask—no offense, mind you—what do you think you’re qualified to do? Secretary of the Treasury seems to be filled at the moment.
Jane: There must be lots of things that I can do.
Dick: Oh come on, Jane, you never worked a day in your life. You can’t type and you can’t take shorthand.
Jane: I’m a college graduate, reasonably intelligent, not altogether unattractive.
Dick: Yes, but will you be happy being a hooker?
Jane: Interesting that the only two jobs you consider me qualified for are secretary and hooker.
Dick: You’re not qualified to be a secretary.

I can still remember the audience roaring with laughter when George Segal delivered that punchline. No pratfalls, no singing in elevators, just some brilliant use of language. Now that I’ve extolled the virtues of the original, let me make it clear that I am not saying you should avoid this remake. It has a number of funny scenes, Carrey and Leoni work hard to overcome Apatow’s poor script and you will laugh and have a good time. But after you’ve spent whatever it costs you to see the new version, take a moment out to rent or buy the old version and enjoy a real treat.

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