FUN WITH DICK AND JANE - DVD review

Remains pretty true to its title: a simplistic, straightforward comedy that generates some real belly laughs at times, but bogs down at others.

James Plath's picture
James
Plath

Dick is an out-of-work Globodyne executive who can't get a job because of an Enron-like scandal. Jane is a travel agent who quit her job the day her husband's company collapsed. "Our lawn was repossessed today because we don't have any money," said Jane. What are they to do?

Rob, Dick, Rob. Drive the getaway car, Jane, Drive.

In 1977, we got Jane Fonda and George Segal in the original "Fun with Dick and Jane," concerning an aerospace industry exec who was a casualty of post-Apollo cutbacks. With their lawn repossessed, the pair turned to crime in a film that was successful mostly because of the antics between Fonda and Segal and an in-your-face anti-political correctness that was shockingly appealing.

In the remake, Jim Carrey and Tia Leoni click just as well, though the humor is less sophisticated and broader, to accommodate Carrey's manic improvisations. Still, I happen to think the new version—which also includes the lawn gag—has more laugh-out-loud moments than the original, as well as a situation that's more relevant, with a plot that almost makes their robberies an act of social retribution. There's no way that those Enron employees should have lost not only their jobs, but their pensions as well. Then to be unfairly stigmatized (nobody was dying to hire them after the scandal broke), it's actually a wonder that the real-life Dicks and Janes of the corporate world didn't hop in a beat-up car, get gussied up in costumes, and rob everything from convenience stores to banks. As Dick says, "We followed the rules, and we got screwed. We're good people, and we got screwed."

As the end credits roll, the first thing the filmmakers offer "special thanks to" are Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron, Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom, and other shell-game playing execs who duped the public and fleeced the employees of corporations such as Tyco, Adelphia, ImClone, Cendant, and HealthSouth. Arthur Andersen also gets a round of thanks for their complicity. Make no mistake about it, this is a political film, with names named and fingers pointed. Even without seeing the credits, it's tough not to think of the Enron scandal. As Dick waits for an appointment with "the big guy," Bush is on TV, then it's the introduction to smooth-talking Frank Baacombe (Richard Jenkins) and the "Kenny Boy" nickname world of Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin) who's perched at the top of the corporate pyramid. If you still don't get that this is a populist film that attacks the corporate mischief that thrived under two terms of Republican rule, there's a Gore-Lieberman 2000 sign hanging in the background of one exterior scene to remind you. That's what makes this film relevant, and viewers will either appreciate the layer of complexity or resent it, depending upon your politics. But the comedy is pretty universal, incorporating sight gags, physical comedy, word play, and situation comedy.

The script for the new "Fun with Dick and Jane" was penned by Nicholas Stoller and Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year Old Virgin," "Celtic Pride"), but they drew from the 1977 screenplay as well. After Dick and Jane turn to their life of crime, part of the fun is watching them ham it up more with each new robbery attempt. In one, they dress like sci-fi ninjas, in another they wear Clinton masks, and in another they dress as Sonny and Cher (with Carrey playing the taller Cher!). There are some nice touches, too. The family maid, Blanca (Gloria Carayua) has a slight speech impediment that, added to her Spanish, is good for a few laughs. Unable to say "Richard," she calls Dick "Retard" and he responds, "Call me Dick." And that gag is expanded to include the couple's young son, who likes to speak Spanish and, of course, does so with the same answer. That will become important later when Dick is trying to prove his American citizenship and has the authorities call home, only to hear young Billy (Aaron Michael Drozin) say, "Hola!"

There are a number of laugh-out-loud moments in "Fun with Dick and Jane," and the socio-political satire is certainly interesting. But the curious thing—and I'm not sure that I can put my finger on the problem—is that the film feels bland. Is it because it's predictable and one-note, except for the humor and end punch line? Is it because there are too many average scenes between the truly funny ones? Is it because some bits go on too long, and they're unfortunately not as funny as some of the others? Is it because the film itself goes on too long? Coming in at 90 minutes, that hardly seems possible. But the fact is, I laughed a bunch of times, and yet felt underwhelmed by the film.

Video: This one comes with both widescreen (anamorphic 2.40:1) and pan-and-scan (1.33:1) options. Mastered in High Definition, the picture quality is superb.

Audio: Same with the audio, which is presented in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, with English and French subtitles. The sound is rich and full-textured, with a great balance between bass and treble.

Extras: Some of the best extras are six deleted scenes. Three of the six deleted scenes are robbery scenes, one of which—a long one where Dick tries to rob Toys-R-Us and goes up against a grizzled old night guard who was a WWII veteran—had me rolling . . . and wondering why in the world this hilarious scene wasn't included in the film. If it was cut to make the film come in under an hour and a half, it's an act of self-sabotage.

There's also a gag interview labeled "Press Junket Highlights" with the two stars sitting in front of different interviewers but the same set, culminating in a wild, active punch line that you can see coming a mile away. The only other extras is the R-rated commentary with director Dean Parisot and writers Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller. Now, normally when guys announce at the start of the commentary that it's going to be one of the funniest you've ever heard, and that you'll laugh and cry and be amazed at the personal things they share about their wives and families, you think, Yeah, right. But these guys pretty much pull it off. They have fun with the commentary, but in not taking it too seriously we're never quite sure when they're speaking factually and when they're talking tongue-in-cheek. Example? They say they built the entire suburban neighborhood and then donated the 15 homes to Habitat for Humanity. True or joke? With all the laughter, it's tough to tell.

But there's no confusing their politics. "We worked really hard to make it seem like Hollywood pinkos didn't make it, though we ARE Hollywood pinkos," they laugh. "I don't want to offend our Republican listeners, but . . . we are your worst nightmare." More laughter. When the subject of Ralph Nader comes up—Nader does a news show cameo—one of them says, "Ralph Nader is the man who gave us George W." There are a good many political slam-dunks in the commentary, so that Republican listeners might be offended. But this group has fun with the commentary, and it's an enjoyable one to listen to.

Bottom Line: Despite the socio-political undercurrents, "Fun with Dick and Jane" remains pretty true to its title: a simplistic, straightforward comedy that generates some real belly laughs at times, but bogs down at others. There's nothing complex about this film. What you see is what you get. Carrey and Leoni click as the suburbanites who finally find work as a stick-up team, but there are zero subplots, and the humor is inconsistent.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
7
Film Value
6