Judge Michael Rankins places this movie on the "fun" scale somewhere between an IRS audit and a flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Giving big business a run for its money.
You know those near-microscopic candy bars that come in bags for Halloween—the ones the manufacturer has the chutzpah to label as "Fun Size"?
That's how big the fun is in Fun With Dick And Jane.
Facts of the Case
Dick Harper (Jim Carrey, who's headlined enough successful film comedies to realize from the get-go what a turkey this one was going to be) and his wife Jane (Téa Leoni, a last-minute substitute for Cameron Diaz, whose turkey detection sense apparently outflanked Carrey's and Leoni's) are the perfect yuppie couple. Dick is a rapidly rising marketing wonk in a multinational megacorporation called Globodyne, while Jane works at a high-profile travel agency. The Harpers share a comfortable suburban home with their young son Billy (Aaron Michael Drozin, whose parents, at least, should have known better) and his nanny Blanca (Gloria Garayua, who was probably just thrilled to be cast in her first feature film, regardless of its potential turkeyism).
When Dick lands a promotion to vice president of communications, he thinks he's just won the lottery. He summons workmen to install a swimming pool in his backyard; he encourages Jane to quit her job so that she can spend more quality time with darling Billy. Little does Dick know that he's being thrown to the media wolves as a sacrificial lamb, just as Globodyne's venal CEO (Alec Baldwin, slumming) and alcoholic CFO (Richard Jenkins of Six Feet Under, which is exactly where roles like this one could land his career) are about to run the company into the ground and abscond with the profits—a fact hapless Dick discovers as he's being interviewed live on national television.
Suddenly unemployed, impoverished—all of Dick and Jane's savings were invested in now-worthless Globodyne stock—and a laughing stock in the corporate world, Dick frantically looks for ways to keep his family from starving. When he can't land a job, and all other legitimate avenues appear to have failed, the former executive and his supportive bride turn to the only means of financial support left to them…armed robbery.
Dick and Jane's unanticipated skill at larceny enables them to plan the ultimate score—financial revenge on the men who ruined their lives.
Holy cats, is this thing over?
I regret that unprofessional outburst of honesty, but Fun With Dick And Jane cost me 90 grueling minutes feeling like a terrorist in the clutches of Kiefer Sutherland's torture-happy secret agent Jack Bauer on 24. This movie is agonizingly unfunny, rife with a reek of desperation that a gallon of Febreze couldn't mask. It is that most mystifying and frustrating of cinematic creatures: A film, made by people who have proven on previous occasions their ability to make good films, that is so screamingly awful that you feel almost apologetic for the parties involved, even as you curse their very existence. How could folks this talented conspire to devise a travesty this monumental? The mind boggles.
It's been years since I last saw the original Fun With Dick And Jane, which starred George Segal and Jane Fonda as the titular couple, but I recall it as mildly amusing, not dreadful. Therefore, I place the blame for this laugh-free remake squarely upon the shoulders of director Dean Parisot, whose previous feature Galaxy Quest blossomed with sharp wit and cagey insights, and screenwriters Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller, who, based on their work here, wouldn't recognize a decent punch line if the spirits of Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield were summoned from the afterlife to throw joke books at them.
To be fair, Parisot stepped into the breach to direct this film after Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family) walked off the project, so perhaps much of the damage to the script was done before he took over. And, as Apatow and Stoller cheerfully confess on the DVD's audio commentary, their original screenplay was slapped together in twelve days, with the idea that Jim Carrey, the director, and others would polish the admittedly rough draft during production. None of the above, however, excuses the mess this movie turned out to be.
What passes for comedy in this misbegotten flick is obvious, lame, and delivered with the deft touch of a piano falling from a fifth-story window. Humor is amazingly simple to evaluate—if you laugh, it's funny; if you don't, it isn't—and on that scale, there's one solitary chuckle in Fun With Dick And Jane, out of dozens of half-hearted attempts. (It's a throwaway line by a minor character, which suggests that the one chuckle may have been an accident.) Making it harder to laugh at the humdrum material is the awkward, self-conscious stiffness of the cast, all of whom seem to sense that they're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and couldn't care less about the tessellation.
Jim Carrey hasn't looked this lost in the woods since his first big-screen starring role in the vampire comedy Once Bitten more than two decades ago. Carrey plays his every scene here with the clench-jawed resolve of a captain going down to Davy Jones's locker at the helm of a doomed ship. You can almost count the beads of flop sweat glistening on his manically mugging brow. A superb physical comic when allowed to play fast and loose with his material, Carrey has proven numerous times before that roles requiring a more straightforward performance style simply are not his forte. In Fun With Dick And Jane, Carrey's vain attempts to ratchet up the insanity smash headlong into a brick wall.
Carrey's costars fare even worse. Téa Leoni, who may be the most underrated comedic actress working in Hollywood today, gives such a joyless heat-sink of a performance that she almost disappears from view. Alec Baldwin, Richard Jenkins, and a slew of walk-on players with familiar faces—including Angie Harmon (Law & Order), Richard Burgi (TV's The Sentinel), and John Michael Higgins (A Mighty Wind, Best In Show)—all act as if their paychecks were being held hostage just off-camera.
The autopilot performances do little to buoy a concept that could have resulted in brilliance. With the skeletons of giant companies collapsed by executive avarice—the Enrons and WorldComs of the business community—still littering the corporate landscape, the opportunity for satirizing this sort of white-collar crime and its effects on innocent bystanders like Dick and Jane Harper is ripe for the targeting. Fun With Dick And Jane does manage to take a few poorly aimed, clumsily executed shots in this direction. The first rule of topical comedy, though, is that no matter how timely, it still has to be funny. This movie so completely misses the humor boat that we as audience members don't care that it might be attempting to offer some grander socioeconomic statement. We're too exhausted from all the laughing we aren't doing.
For those willing to suffer the indignity of enduring this movie, Sony Pictures offers the consolation prize of a clean video transfer (available in either widescreen or whatever that other thing is called), accurate sound reproduction, and a smattering of supplemental content. The film does look and sound quite well, with an exceptional digital representation that provides everything you'd want and nothing you wouldn't.
Chief among the bonuses is a lively (livelier, in fact, by several degrees than the movie upon which it comments) audio commentary starring three of the primary culprits responsible for this debacle—director Dean Parisot and screenwriters Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller. This trio has a grand time chatting nonstop with merry abandon, even though their opinion of their masterwork is far loftier than my own.
Five of the six deleted scenes included would have made the film longer but not funnier, and therefore are just as well relegated to the DVD extras. The sixth, an extended sequence featuring James Whitmore as an elderly but still scrappy ex-Marine guarding a toy store Dick and Jane attempt to rob, is easily more laugh-inducing than anything in the finished film. The veteran Whitmore will doubtless be relieved not to have this film listed on his storied résumé, but his excised cameo contributes the only four-and-one-half minutes of actual movie footage worth watching on this entire disc.
Also worth a peek, however, is a three-minute compilation of interview clips with Carrey and Leoni, taken from what appears to have been a day-long press tour following the making of the film. Having the chance to see these two comic talents simply be themselves—and Carrey is hilarious here—makes the painful, mirthless quality of Fun With Dick And Jane all the more regrettable. If some savvy director would pair Carrey and Leoni with a solid, funny script that effectively showcased their skills…I'd pay good money to see that.
The three-minute blooper reel is as sadly bereft of genuine—even unintentional—humor as the movie itself, but is blissfully over in one-thirtieth the time.
An even dozen trailers stand as a monument to the vigorous efforts of the Sony marketing machine. If you're not getting your recommended daily allowance of commercials, consider this disc a digital multivitamin.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Roger Ebert once observed that the only films deserving of remakes were films with great premises that were incompetently executed in the original. Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, usually does the opposite, remaking product that was either (a) done perfectly the first time, and doesn't need redoing, or (b) so thoroughly awful that it was better left forgotten. Fun With Dick And Jane falls in between. It's a remake of an average comedy that doesn't even rise to the mediocrity of its predecessor.
Why do the major studios keep wasting ungodly amounts of money on dreck like this (about $100 million in this instance), instead of reaching out to those hundreds of struggling filmmakers out there who might bring something fresh and unique to the party? Your guess is as good as mine.
If you promise "fun" in the title of your film, then, by cracky, you'd better bring the fun. Fun With Dick And Jane can only be described as an utter disappointment, made by people capable of much better work. We hope they'll deliver it on future projects.
Guilty, and not in a fun way.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary Featuring Director Dean Parisot and Screenwriters Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller
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