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Published: Wednesday, 12/21/2005

Movie review: Fun With Dick & Jane *

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Jim Carrey makes $30 million.

Per movie.

But not every movie.

Just movies where his eyes bulge, his face turns rubbery, his voice booms, and his body transforms into saltwater taffy.

If a studio wants him in full manic Jim Carrey fury, which, these days, means if it wants him to make a movie nobody really expects to be good or taken seriously (just very successful), then $30 million it is.

I'm not saying Carrey himself takes these films any less seriously than, say, an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or a Man on the Moon or a picture with larger aspirations; Carrey himself has a reputation for tying up productions and shooting a gag or line ad nauseam, until he's satisfied.

And I'm not saying comedy itself, the simple act of making people laugh, is so simple, or not worthwhile, or without aspiration, or even any easier to pull off than a picture packed with pretension and self-importance. I'm also not saying Carrey doesn't deserve $30 million a picture: if a studio makes $200 to $300 million on that picture, largely because your face is all over it, you deserve $30 million.

What I'm saying is this: If you make $30 million a film, and your latest (which you also produced) is a $100 million remake of Fun With Dick & Jane, which opens today, in which you have fun with downsizing, the loss of company pensions, as well as the loss of a driveway with a BMW - if you make that in 2005 (let alone 1977), it had better be funny.

"This isn't funny."

That came from behind me, from an elderly woman who laughed through maybe 45 percent of Fun With Dick & Jane, but found it kind of hard to work up the funny bone for a scene where Carrey, down on his luck, dons a plaid work shirt and sits on a street corner in Los Angeles with immigrant Mexican day laborers, hoping to be hired by a passing employer.

He plays a fired former vice president of communications for a corporation called Globodyne, and the sight of this guy struggling alongside them is meant to be a new low, and pathetic, and worth a laugh.

It's not funny. She was right.

It's even kind of distasteful. The emphasis of the joke is on the notion that now he is one of them - period - and not the fact that here is this white-collar guy with no blue-collar skills who resorts to passing himself off as cheap, undocumented labor and can't even get that job. It's that he sunk beyond low - that he's no better than an illegal Mexican immigrant.

But now I ask myself: If it were funny somehow, if that scene and others in the picture did more than repeat a few bits over and over until the characters get their money back and return to being upper-middle class, would I still find Fun With Dick & Jane crass? Or kind of satirical?

The latter, I think, was the intention, though compared with the 1977 original (which is just as much of a misfire), it's kind of a fascinating lesson in just how satirical and cutting a broad studio comedy is willing to be today.

In the original, George Segal played an aerospace engineer who loses his job. Jane Fonda plays the wife who spends his money. And the picture, despite reaching for sympathy that isn't much deserved, makes a point about materialism and upscale families and how the loss of their sense of privilege drives them into a life of crime.

It doesn't view Segal and Fonda as fundamentally good people who need to step back and appreciate their lives. They are, in a perverse way, products of their environment.

The new Fun With Dick & Jane, with the very funny Tea Leoni as Jane, puts the family's troubles largely on a timely problem: corporate malfeasance. It's not their fault they have to steal to buy back their $700,000 home and BMW and nanny and TiVo.

It takes place in a very specific year: 2000. It's a smart idea, meant to invoke the period before the Internet bubble burst and before 9/11, when CEOs and other executives were quietly swindling millions out of their companies, and gambling away the pension plans of their employees, and none of us were as aware as we are now.

When Globodyne tanks, the chief financial officer (Richard Jenkins) takes a sip of scotch and says, "Maybe we just didn't know how to use Quicken."

Perhaps the best example of how timid this movie is about making the points it thinks it's making, is how it throws in a shot of George W. Bush on the campaign trail - is the film saying his coming administration would be responsible for an era of big-business greed and therefore the cause of people like Dick and Jane turning to crime, or simply a way of dating the film?

It could be taken either way.

OK, so I'm taking this too seriously. You're right. But there's a reason a film taps into a zeitgeist, and a comedy about the Enron scandal and the others like it, is a smart, bold way of handling it.

What Fun With Dick & Jane reverts to, however, is a simple rule of expanding options: Dick is fired. Jane quits. Once those jokes are expended, we move on to the jokes about how Dick passes his days unemployed, then the jokes about how Dick tries to work as a wage slave, then the jokes about how they rob convenience stores with a water gun, then the jokes about how they commit crime dressed as Sonny and Cher, then the scene where they get revenge on the company's CEO (Alec Baldwin).

I won't tell you how it ends but I will tell you this: All of the people get their pension back, and literally, there is a celebration in the street. You'd think these people made $30 million per picture.



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