You've been robbed

'Fun with Dick and Jane' fails to make greed funny.

Review C+

December 21, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Tea Leoni combines the talents of a crazy comic with those of a gorgeously bent straight gal. She and Jim Carrey, Mr. Malleable, appear made for each other. But they're not the match of your dreams as the storybook man and wife turned suburban Bonnie and Clyde in Fun With Dick and Jane.

Whenever they cut loose here - not often enough - they detonate theater-quaking belly laughs. During one modest heist at a cafe, Dick distracts Jane with the prospect of low-fat muffins. She takes a headfirst plunge over a counter, landing in a sprawl off-screen. Leoni's physical daring and her crack (also cracked) timing make the moment inexplicably hilarious, even if you've seen it 50 times in the TV ad.

Sadly, Fun With Dick and Jane is a liberal-concept comedy that doesn't stray far off its simple message. The moviemakers think CEO greed is bad. They think laid-off-employee greed is not as bad, and funnier - and that's where they go wrong.

The picture derives from the feeble 1977 original about an unemployed couple (George Segal and Jane Fonda) robbing to support their upper-middle-class household. Director Dean Parisot and writers Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller revamp Dick from an aerospace exec to an incompetent vice president of communications who goes down with an Enron-like organization. They make Dick even stupider than necessary: He's so incompetent a spin doctor everyone can see that he's a quack.

The movie excoriates Dick's corrupt boss (Alec Baldwin) for stripping his company's resources, including pension funds. But we're coerced to wink at Dick's monkey-see, monkey-do criminality, even when he commits unsettling acts of personal revenge. Then we're supposed to feel relieved when he and Jane pull off a Robin Hood-like coup at the climax.

The married heroes are woefully conventional and materialistic. Until they cross the line, their only jones is keeping up with the Joneses. After they cross it, they leave the Joneses in the dust - and, then, in movie comedy's cheapest trick, enjoy their hottest sex ever.

Their quest to regain their status (their plush lawn) or improve it (with a hot tub) carries no emotional weight and isn't meant to. The title refers to the idealized boy and girl who starred in public school readers from the 1930s through the 1960s and roamed through an idyllic American landscape. The Dick and Jane of the movies are the Dick and Jane of the books grown up (if not matured) - that's why they flounder when the system fails them.

The movie would click only if we could see them as satiric versions of all-American kid-book illustrations. But that conceit fades with the opening credits. At best they're a twisted Ken and Barbie pulling off thefts in silly get-ups, including Sonny and Cher drag. (Their 6-year-old son registers only when the filmmakers poke fun at the Spanish he's learned from their all-important housekeeper.)

It's a surprising failure for director Parisot, an episodic-TV whiz (he did the pilot for Monk) who's been two for two on the big screen with a pair of very different comedies, the sly small-town farce Home Fries (1998) and the deft Star Trek satire Galaxy Quest (1999). If Parisot were at the top of his game, he'd have started with stuff like that low-fat muffin gag. He'd have made it the base of a slight yet sinewy comedy about lifestyle determining life.

Instead, he lampoons consumerism in a way that flatters consumers in the audience - especially the ones who can savor the difference between a BMW and a Mercedes.

As social commentary, Fun With Dick and Jane wears Leno-thin. As a big-screen sitcom, it's a procession of hit-or-miss touches that cancel each other out.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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