Reel Opinions

Friday, December 23, 2005

Fun with Dick and Jane

Fun with Dick and Jane is a movie that lives up to its title in more ways than one. Like the classic children stories that inspired its name, it is lighter than air, frothy, inoffensive, and simple. It only wants to entertain us for 90 minutes or so and make us laugh. At that, the film is successful, and does indeed offer a lot of fun while you're watching it. This is mostly due to the game and willing performances of its lead actors, Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni. There are some missed opportunities for sharp satire, and the film is almost certain to leave your mind the second you walk out of the theater, but director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) has crafted a fine, if not slight, little piece of holiday escapism.

Set in that "long ago year of 2000", as the film's clever opening sequence states, Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) seems to be a man living the American dream. He's got the standard two story home in the suburbs, he's got a devoted wife in the form of Jane (Tea Leoni), and his job at the massive Globodyne Corporation seems to be on the way up. The company's smooth-talking CEO, Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin) has just offered Dick his dream job position - Vice President of Communications. Little does he realize that Jack is simply setting him up to take the fall for an Enron-inspired scam where the company goes under, and the CEO escapes blame-free with all of his employees' money, leaving the other higher ups in the company (including Dick) to take the heat from the press.

The months slowly tick by, and Dick finds it harder to get back into the work force. The economy's gone down the toilet, and the entire Globodyne fiasco is still fresh in everyone's mind, so no one will hire him. When it reaches the point that their house is in danger of being foreclosed, Dick can stand no more. He's spent all his life making money honestly, and got punished for it. In order to regain the lifestyle they once enjoyed, the couple decides to start a string of robberies across the area. The jobs start out small and highly disorganized, but as their confidence builds, they build up to bigger heists - including one that could offer them a chance at payback with the man who put them in this situation in the first place.

The above synopsis would lead you to believe that Fun with Dick and Jane is a sharp social and business satire. However, screenwriters Judd Appatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin), Peter Tolan, and Nicolas Stoller have no such ambitions. This is a featherweight comic fantasy that is so fast and frantic that although your watch will say 90 minutes have passed when the end credits roll, it will seem more like only 60 have gone by. The movie wastes little to no time on plot or characterizations. Most supporting characters are either brushed in the background except when needed, or are treated as running gags. (Such as Dick and Jane's young son who spends so much time around the family's Spanish-speaking housekeeper that he speaks the language fluently and uses it more than English.) The film is solely interested in increasingly bizarre comic set-pieces. Fortunately, the film knows how to go over the top in its humor without getting so out of control that we can no longer identify or relate to the lead roles.

This is thanks mostly to the performances of Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni. Not only do they make a surprisingly likable pair and have good chemistry together, they seem to be willing to do just about anything for a laugh and are game for just about every far-fetched situation the script throws at them. Everything from Dick being mistaken for an illegal immigrant worker and getting deported out of his own country (due to circumstances too complex to summerize) to Jane having extreme physical side effects to an experimental drug test that she did for money, you can tell that Carrey and Leoni are having the time of their lives with their roles and the fun comes through in their performances. I was especially impressed with Leoni's comedic performance as she's even able to steal more than her share of scenes from Carrey. Despite how silly the film can get at times, the actors wisely never play the scenes so broad that they don't even seem like the same people we met at the beginning. They're both likeable and easy to root for. Sure, Carrey does his standard face mugging for the camera more than once, but he knows how to hold it in when its required.

Some people have complained that this film glorifies and almost justifies the Harper's crime spree during the course of the film. They believe it sends a negative message, as not once is the couple punished for their actions, nor are the police ever depicted getting involved except in one instance. Normally, I would agree, but I view this film simply as silly escapism. You've got to admit, this movie would be hard to pull off "realistically", and still make the lead characters likeable. As I mentioned before, this is a check your brain at the door movie where you're just supposed to laugh and not think about the implausibility of it all. Really, my main complaint is that although the film's light and frothy tone mostly won me over, I thought there were a lot of missed opportunities at sharp satire that a smarter film would have pounced upon with vicious glee. The film's opening half seems to be one big jab at big and corrupt business, but then it seems to drop that angle and turn into a silly comedic farce about this couple trying to get their life back together by going against the society that wronged them. In a way, I dont think the filmmakers really intended this to be a savage satire so maybe I shouldn't hold it against them. But still, I just couldn't help but dream of a slightly smarter film than the one that was up on the screen.

Is Fun with Dick and Jane a great movie? Far from it. It's slight, it's forgettable, and it's pretty much junk food for your brain. But, like the best junk food, it is a guilty pleasure and left me feeling happy. I'm recommending it because the film made me laugh most of the time. Sure, not all of the jokes hit, but thanks to the film's rapid-fire pace, there's bound to be one that does about a minute or two later. The film could have been more than what it is, but I can't blame the filmmakers for making escapism entertainment. We need those movies as well as the smart ones after all. As long as the escapism is done well, that's all I ask. And for what it is, Fun with Dick and Jane is done very well.

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