Have enough news cycles now passed for the Enron debacle to be funny? Probably not to anyone whose “retirement” will be spent greeting shoppers at the local low-price emporium, and certainly not to that company’s dazed, pocket-picked employees and shareholders. But with his toothless remake of 1977’s Fun With Dick and Jane, moneybags producer Brian Grazer—whose shit-into-gold touch makes him as immune to financial insecurity as he is to cinematic relevance—is gambling that the rest of us will find the last half-decade of corporate malfeasance a real scream. Who says Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream America?
Dick & Jane stars Jim Carrey as Dick Harper, a self-satisfied, upwardly mobile marcom shill for a ’90s-style media conglomerate who’s promoted to VP shortly before the firm collapses. The stereotypical trappings of Dick’s success—generic McMansion, spanking-new BMW, Latina domestic—are thus put in jeopardy, and he and his wife, Jane (Teá Leoni), subsequently embark on a series of unfunny vignettes in which frugality, menial labor, illegal immigration, petty crime, and yes, Wal-Mart serve as the butt of jokes. To no one’s surprise the couple gets everything back, with some newfound humility to boot.
Director Dean Parisot, who exhibits little in the way of visual imagination but at least showed a flair for broad humor in 1999’s Galaxy Quest, seems undermotivated by Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller’s rushed, flaccid screenplay. It’s one thing to milk humor and pathos from a Star Trek send-up, though, and quite another to make sudden destitution hilarious without seeming like a jerk. Ted Kotcheff couldn’t pull it off in the original Dick and Jane, either, but he had two charismatic leads (George Segal and Jane Fonda) with chemistry. Parisot has Carrey, whose obsessive mugging subverts any attempt at anything but the most manic tone, a checked-out Leoni, and Alec Baldwin unconvincingly channeling Ken Lay and Dubya as a corrupt CEO. Plus, he’s stuck with this story in the age of Bush, whose sympathies lie with the Ken Lays of the world; slapstick might have been the perfect vehicle to expose middle-class myopia 30 years ago, but these days only the blackest of farces will do. This
Dick & Jane is precisely the kind of social-problem comedy you’d expect from well-intentioned millionaires unaccustomed to putting their money where their mouths are.