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Fun with Dick and Jane
The Corporate Avengers
by Mel Valentin on Dec 23, 2005
A remake/update of a little-known 1977 comedy starring George Segal and Jane Fonda, Fun with Dick and Jane is an unexpectedly subversive comedy that takes on suburban conformity, the underside of the American Dream, corporate greed, and the shortcomings of the current occupant of the White House. Viewers with a liberal-progressive bent to their political beliefs will be more than pleased with the results onscreen. Alternatively, conservative critics eager to find evidence of "liberal bias" in Hollywood can point happily (or perhaps unhappily) to Fun with Dick and Jane's take on corporate America. That Fun with Dick and Jane combines political satire and social commentary with ample doses of physical and verbal humor, however, makes it highly entertaining, even for those on the other side of the political spectrum.
Fun with Dick and Jane opens in the year 2000 (before the stock market crash that sent the U.S. economy into a recession). Mutual funds and pension plans are fat with over-inflated stock prices. Americans from almost every social class invest in the stock market, hoping to double or triple their net worth in months (some do, but from that subset, many don't pull out of the stock market before the crash). Meet Dick Harper (Jim Carrey), a mid-level corporate executive at Globodyne Industries. Dick is married to Jane (Téa Leoni), a travel agent who handles high-maintenance clientele. Together, they live in an expensive housing development (not quite McMansions, but close), working long hours to maintain their upper-middle class lifestyle. Their son speaks English with a Spanish lisp, thanks to their Latina housekeeper, who spends more time with their son than they do.
At work, Dick hopes to get a promotion and a sizable raise. He does, becoming the new vice president of communications. Dick is immediately asked to appear on a cable news show to discuss Globodyne's quarterly earnings. Given last minute talking points, Dick is blindsided with revelations of corporate wrongdoing. In short order, Globodyne's stock tanks and Dick joins the swelling ranks of the unemployed. Having earlier suggested to Jane that she leave her job to spend more time at home with their son, Dick arrives home to discover a newly unemployed Jane.
Dick and Jane hope for the best as Dick begins his search for new employment. Months pass, confidence begins to give way to doubt and despair. Dick's luck doesn't change for the better, leaving Dick and Jane in increasingly dire financial circumstances. Out of desperation, Dick suggests turning to armed robbery. His first attempt goes badly (but since Fun with Dick and Jane is a comedy, no one is hurt), but once he recruits Jane to become his partner, the financial tide turns in their favor. Cue montage of a steady series of robberies, each bigger and more elaborate than the last (and all the more hilarious).
Fun with Dick and Jane's second act ends with a near reversal that forces Dick and Jane to rethink their long-term strategy for financial and personal stability. Fun with Dick and Jane then segues into Dick and Jane turning their newfound skills for robbery and impersonation into a larger, riskier, winner-take-all scheme. From there, reversals and complications rise to farcical levels, with a happy ending for the protagonists more than likely.
Fun with Dick and Jane manages to find a clever balance between Jim Carrey's patented physical comedy (Téa Leoni manages to keep up with Carrey during the more outrageous bits) and political satire and social commentary. Fun with Dick and Jane's satire and commentary encompasses the boardrooms of high-ranking corporate executives, and as Dick's fortunes wane, down through the economic ladder through unsubtle jabs at Wal-Mart (called KostMart here) and, later, illegal immigrants and day workers. As the corporate CEO without a conscience Alec Baldwin as Jack Macallister gives his admittedly limited role the combination of credibility and duplicity to sell the character. Although Macallister is loosely based on the recently disgraced corporate CEOs who have had unpleasant encounters with our criminal justice system (e.g., Enron's Kenneth Lay), he also shares the current president's cluelessness, not to mention a line of dialogue lifted from (and immortalized) Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11.
As the end credits roll, the producers cheekily give "special thanks" to Enron, WorldCom, Tyco International, and Adelphia (among others), corporations that imploded after financial scandals brought down their respective CEOs and other high-ranking corporate executives. It's highly improbable that these corporations wanted thanks of any kind from the producers of Fun with Dick and Jane. Alas, Fun with Dick and Jane plays upon wistful, unrealistic fantasies, where corrupt corporate executives get their comeuppance for their misdeeds and betrayal of their fiduciary duties, but with three more years of economic and political stagnation (or worse) awaiting viewers as they exit movie theaters, only the truly humorless will begrudge them the mildly subversive escapism that Fun with Dick and Jane briefly offers during its brief 85-minute running time.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Dec 23, 2005
Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni, images courtesy of Columbia Pictures