Film and TV

Backhanded Slapstick

The Jerry Lewis chromosome is running amok again inside Jim Carrey, and if you don't feel like getting clubbed half to death with a slapstick, stay away from Fun With Dick and Jane. On the other hand, if Carrey's tireless antics -- slithering onto nightclub tables, speaking in tongues and all manner of rubber-faced craziness -- put you quickly into stitches, then this sometimes pointed, sometimes pointless post-Enron comedy might be just the thing. Movie-goers who recall 1977's original Dick and Jane, starring George Segal and Jane Fonda as a desperate suburban couple that turned to crime in the face of sudden poverty, already know most of the drill. Carrey and his screen spouse, Téa Leoni, find themselves in a similar fix when Dick's crooked employer, a fictional corporate giant called Globodyne, tanks in the wake of vast boardroom malfeasance. But Carrey's brand of exhausting physical comedy is a far cry from Segal's useful bewilderment, so this ride is both rougher and loonier.

The co-writers here, Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller, obviously read the papers, watch CNN and keep tabs on the latest federal indictments: Their busy screenplay is jam-packed with body shots aimed at Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers and the rest of the billionaire conspiracy set. The bad boy stand-in here is one Jack McCallister (the ubiquitous Alec Baldwin, or someone who looks like a Baldwin or two), the shifty Globodyne CEO who makes off with a cool $400 mil (maybe more) while leaving his employees in the lurch -- stripped of their salaries, their pensions and their potted plants. For Carrey's beleaguered Dick Harper, whose last gig with the company was as chief media spokesman and flak-catcher, that means a swift crash into the doldrums. In short order, this cocky, grinning backslapper loses his job, his BMW and the crew of workmen excavating his new swimming pool site. It's not long before the lawn gets repossessed. In a fit of bad timing, wife Jane has already quit her job -- a terrible move, of course -- and within half an hour, the Harpers' maid has made off with their household appliances in lieu of wages.

This is the funniest, most energetic part of the farce, not least because Carrey's sudden need for a job takes him, hilariously, to a stuffy bank (where a score of bloodthirsty applicants have a lively briefcase fight), to a big-box discount store (where Dick's promptly fired after failing as a greeter) and, sinking ever lower, to a day-labor pool stocked with Mexican illegals. Even if Carrey's Dumb and Dumber or Bruce Almighty shtick did nothing for you -- in fact, especially if it did nothing for you -- the sight of him getting belted off the back of a truck, then busted by the INS, should warm the cockles of your heart. Meanwhile, Jane lands part-time work testing experimental drugs, and when gruesome side effects turn her face into something straight out of a horror flick, you have to give the lovely Leoni credit for showmanship and sporting blood.

Oddly, this Dick and Jane starts to decline almost as soon as the principals' crime spree gets in gear. First they rob a head shop, a coffee bar and some department stores (in funny costumes), and their ineptitude is comic enough. But by the time director Dean Parisot (late of the Monk TV series) gets them to the big score -- turning the tables on villain McCallister himself -- the air's leaked out of the balloon. We don't really yearn to see competent suburban thieves; we hunger for screw-ups. And the movie's deus ex machina denouement -- the villain's brought low and everything's fine now -- is a cheating maneuver, no matter how much we all want revenge on the Enron crowd.

Carrey revels in his usual quota of set pieces -- getting drunk and going nuts in a fancy men's club; clowning inside a high-tech commando suit equipped with a voice-distorter; soaping up and rinsing off in his neighbor's lawn sprinkler because the water's been shut off at his place. The Harpers' rationale for larceny? "We followed the rules and we got screwed," Dick bellows. Of course, he takes to crime armed only with his wit and his ten-year-old's authentic-looking squirt gun. The real offense here, however, is that the movie runs out of gas in its last thirty minutes. Not even the indefatigable Carrey can bring much energy to the supposedly crucial big scam scenes, which rely more than they should have to on a dead-drunk act by co-star Richard Jenkins, who plays the former Globodyne CFO who's now in cahoots with Dick and Jane to take down their old boss. Anyway, here's a vain hope: Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling will have to watch the whole thing in the penitentiary.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo