Hippo Manchester
December 29, 2005

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FILM: Fun with Dick and Jane (PG-13)  C-

by Amy Diaz

Somewhere out there is a smart, funny story about an upper-middle-class couple driven to a life of crime when corporate malfeasance pushes them to the edge of poverty but it ain’t here in Fun with Dick and Jane.

I know that story does exist, however, because flashes of it pop up in this movie. Like a big sparkly diamond hidden deep, deep down in a pit of noxious mud, the Smart has been covered over with Safe here — the safety that is slapstick and Jim Carrey’s mugging and wacky capers.

Before we get to wacky capers, however, we get silly Everyman. Dick Harper (Carrey) and his wife Jane (Tea Leoni) are the people we all hate to admit that part of us would like to be: they own an awful yet comfortable, clean and shiny-new McMansion; he drives a nifty German car; they have a sweet-tempered Mexican maid who more or less has raised their Spanish-speaking son and they plan for a Saturday night of sex set to scented candles and a soundtrack by a Starbucks compilation CD. Yes, it is a life both profane and divine, made all the more so by the promised increase in worldly comforts that will come with Dick’s promotion to vice president of communications for Globodyne. What does Globodyne do, exactly? Well, it’s made its CEO Jack McCallistar (Alec Baldwin) crazy rich, for one. A suspiciously familiar Texas accent and a penchant for nonsensical and/or half-finished aphorisms hide a serpentine intelligence because, as it turns out, what Globodyne does is hide its losses until the exact moment that Dick appears on a financial cable news show to spin the company’s quarterly earnings. As Dick learns — on air, causing much Nixon-like sweating — Globodyne is an Enron, ready to crumble. This means no more job but, as Dick quickly finds out, it also means no pension, no savings (all in Globodyne stock) and no home equity (the collapse of this big employer has driven down the housing market in Dick’s neighborhood). Jane, who quit her job when Dick got his raise, finds the family trying to balance the budget on nothing.

Slowly at first and then picking up speed like a snowball rolling down a ski hill that the family can no longer afford to vacation at, the Harpers lose their middle-class trappings. Gone are the workers who were digging a hole for the hot tub (but not the maid — the Harpers pay her in appliances). Gone is the emerald green lawn (it is “repossessed,” leaving only dirt). Gone are the electricity, the furniture and television (sold for cash) and all traces of dignity as Dick applies (with dozens of other former executives) for jobs at the Wal-Mart-like store and Jane takes part in medical experiments for a Botox-like substance that leave her face bloated.

See Dick snap. In a moment of frustration, he travels the neighborhood cutting out squares of lawn and then haphazardly replanting them on his own property. When nothing happens he decides, hmm, crime really does pay and then, with the help of a house-in-foreclosure-motivated Jane, he begins to rob from area convenience stores, coffee shops and eventually banks.

It’s really when the crime spree begins that the movie jumps the track into wacky land. Here it has to choose between dark comedy and complete farce. It chooses both and follows a wobbly nonsensical path right to the big cheesy Hollywood ending.

And it’s too bad, because whether it’s Alec Baldwin’s perfect mimicry of a George W. Bush insincere statement of caring or a common southern California work opportunity that involves standing in front of the Home Depot, the movie has some funny moments. It also has a little something to say about an upper middle class that, despite high salaries, lives on the edge of financial ruin because spending outstrips income. And all without being terribly preachy about it.

Of course nobody wants to be anti-consumerist during the holidays and the movie seems scared of its own potential. The result is some limp wackiness with Jim and Tea, both of whom are too prone to letting things (the plot, comic timing, subtlety) get away from them.