Remaking the minor 1977 comedy Fun With Dick And Jane was a sensible enough idea. The original film, which starred George Segal and Jane Fonda as downsized yuppies who turn to armed robbery to survive, was not really memorable enough to become evergreen and therefore fixed in our minds as un-toppable. It was one of those movies, like Cold Turkey or First Family, that attempted to blend social relevance and situational humor, but managed to miss as many times as it hit with both. Segal and Fonda had a decent enough chemistry, even if they had to forge it themselves thanks to a scattershot (and racially insensitive) script by old school TV guy, Jerry Belson. It was also handicapped by a tragic lack of focus by C-stringer Ted Kotcheff, the man whose later feature directing highlights were the necro-yukfest Weekend At Bernie's in 1989 and the wacky Alzheimer's adventure Folks! in 1992.
The remake is serviceable enough satire. While it may have seemed doomed due to original director Barry Sonnenfeld bailing six weeks before shooting was to begin, its oh-crap rescheduling from its summer berth and subsequent last-minute re-shoots, it is still quick and funny, as flawed as it is. When Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) and his wife, Jane (Téa Leoni) are faced with losing everything they have worked for, they, too, turn to robbery to survive. They have an odd-boy son, Billy (Jacob Davich) who constantly speaks the Spanish taught to him by their housekeeper, Blanca (Gloria Garayua). What was, in the 1970's, a comedy (sort of) about the Recesssion (sort of), is now a 21st century approximation of Modern Times (albeit a rough one). The wicked machinery here is Globocorp, the large corporation that cooks its books so its high-level execs can get rich before the company implodes (it is set in 2000, just before Enron tanked, for the benefit of one great joke as the end credits run.) Broad satire like this is tough to pull off, but The 40-Year-Old Virgin writer Judd Apatow, who produced producer Carrey's 1996 film, The Cable Guy, plays off most every one of the hyperkinetic wonder's strengths with a script tailored to each of them. Carrey mugs and double-takes like he did in Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty, but much less memorably. Like the original, this one doesn't go as deep as it could to be simultaneously funny and memorable.
Carrey is his usual, versatile self, making the movie funnier than it should be. He plays an executive v.p. whose career is destroyed when he is set up as the public face of the tanking, Enron-like Globocorp. You cannot help but lament this kind of easy-bake slummin', though, considering Carrey's range is wide, something he's proven time and again in movies like The Truman Show, Man On The Moon and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. There are visible cracks even strategic spots of drama probably fell through in the mad dash to screen the film for critics. It doesn't even clock in at 90 minutes, and is a rare instance of us wishing that a movie was actually longer than it is, not shorter. An extra 15 or 20 minutes might have allowed for a more satisfying slow burn, more time to identify with these people before we are asked to feel bad for their misfortune. Instead, it almost seems like an extended trailer.
Leoni is good, but she seems comically underused, as well. While she has shown off her dramatic chops lately in films like Spanglish and husband David Duchovny's House Of D, it has been nearly a decade since she dazzled in Ben Stiller's overlooked treat Flirting With Disaster. The bar is just not raised that high for her here. Deceased "Six Feet Under" dad Richard Jenkins is a hoot as an always-soused sad sack former exec, with Alec Baldwin turning on equal parts charm and smarm as the CEO who fleeced the company (Ed McMahon, believe it or not, played him in the original).
Like the title suggests, the movie is fun, but is that really enough? Is it really memorable enough to become evergreen and therefore fixed in our minds as un-toppable? Will you rush out and buy the Special Edition DVD when it comes out in the spring? Probably not on all counts. Maybe you'll get it in a Buy 2, Get 1 free deal off the used rack at Follywood or Lackluster a month or two after it comes out, maybe you'll catch it on pay cable next fall. It will amuse you, but it will pass and make way for other far better movies in our hearts and DVD racks. But whose responsibility is it to see that we are consistently entertained? If you go by the actions of Sony brass, it's the marketing department's fault. Earlier this month, after noting that Hitch was the studio's only $100,000,000 title, they fired marketing chief Geoffrey Ammer, as if he had something to do with greenlighting underperforming projects in the first place. I'll forgo the lecture about how the art of writing is lost in this day and age because firstly, I'm not a pontificating ass and secondly, such a statement is not altogether true. You can list the gems of yesteryear until you're blue in the face, but the fact is, those great films endure because we chose them to. Thousands of the bad films produced in the last century will never be seen again because film buffs choose not to mount preservation and restoration campaigns for such crap. Of course, in this digital age, our garbage will forever tell of our missteps, so the alien anthropologists can visit our infertile rock in 10,000 years, fish a DVD of Deuce Bigalow: Geriatric Gigolo out of the landfill formerly known as North America and glean our collective stupidity. Of course, they'll already know the real reason we perished or moved our huge-noggined, beige-skinned, eight-toed families to the final frontier -- the Globocorp's and Enron's of the world sold the last of our oxygen to Alpha Centauri.