To remake or not to remake: That is the Hollywood question. ... Although, considering the number of remakes clogging cineplex marquees this year, it's probably a moot question. The more apt question, I suppose, is what to remake? Logic dictates that remake-hungry movie executives should probably stay away from classic, already perfected films with which audiences are intimately familiar. Except that Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong was one of the best films of 2005. By a similar token, little-known, cleverly conceived but poorly executed films are probably perfect for remaking. Except that the brand new update of 1977's little-known, cleverly conceived but poorly executed Fun With Dick and Jane isn't really much fun at all.
Director Dean Parsiot (Galaxy Quest) and screenwriter Judd Aptow (who contributed to the much funnier 40-Year-Old Virgin earlier this year) have taken a not terribly well-regarded comedy that few people remember (the original starred George Segal and Jane Fonda) and have stuck tenaciously to the formula—producing another not terribly well-regarded comedy that few people will remember.
Jim Carrey plays Dick, a happy, wealthy executive at the Globodyne Corporation. One day, the company's chief executive (Alec Baldwin, who just did this bit in Elizabethtown) pulls a Ken Lay, bankrupting the business and absconding with $400 million. Broke and desperate, Dick and his wife Jane (Téa Leoni) become armed robbers in order to maintain their beloved social status. At first, the couple test the waters, robbing head shops and coffee joints. Eventually, the pair graduate to the big time, looting banks in order to pay for their expensive backyard hot tub.
Fun With Dick and Jane could have been a clever and timely comment on today's wayward capitalist system. Instead, the film's moral gets lost in a tangle of slapstick jokes and mixed messages. (So, we're supposed to condemn evil Alec Baldwin for ripping people off, but root for Dick and Jane for doing the exact same thing?) Had our hero and heroine been common-wage slaves devastated by looted pensions, the film might have generated some sympathy. But it's hard to feel bad for an upscale couple cruelly robbed of their access to Botox injections.
Carrey and Leoni are appealing actors, and they do what they can to keep this airy, escapist fantasy afloat. Carrey, of course, sings, contorts his famous rubber face and performs as many pratfalls as his paycheck compels him to, trying to milk laughs from the too-genial script. Leoni still has that winsome comic appeal she developed in the underrated sitcom “Flying Blind” and generates a few laughs from the aforementioned Botox. But it's a running gag about a dog in an overactive shock collar that garners the most chuckles. Which doesn't say much for the sub-par efforts of all involved.
Early moments, in which Dick and Jane try to cope with their sudden loss of fortune, are promising—a breezy, silly skewering of the suburban dream. One funny scene has the couple's entire lawn being repossessed. (“I didn't know they could do that,” deadpans Leoni.) But, once the film's major plot kicks in, Dick and Jane's Bonnie and Clyde act sucks some of the fun out of the proceedings. The original film, although equally contrived, did have a certain amount of social commentary about America's “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. But, in today's overprosperous world, Dick and Jane's activities just seem excessive. How about, instead of robbing hardworking citizens, you just get yourself a smaller house and live like the other 90 percent of America?
A madcap plot twist, which attempts to resolve Baldwin's character and that missing $400 million, provides the film's manic (if slightly random) capper. Those who find themselves herded into the theater on the promise of an hour-and-a-half worth of Jim Carrey facial expressions probably won't complain too loudly. As a piece of star-driven, holiday-season cineplex-filler, though, Fun With Dick and Jane is only a marginally fun and instantly forgettable stocking stuffer.
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