A certain amount of hype is to be expected in show biz, even if the excesses of the golden days of ballyhoo as exemplified by William Castle have passed. It’s all part of the shell game that purveyors of entertainment play in order to engage the enthusiasms, or even just pique the interest, of the spending public at large. Still, it’s only fair to have some element of truth involved when engaging in same. As a title, FUN WITH DICK AND JANE skirts that idea with only the barest of qualifiers, because, although there are a Dick and a Jane, there is no fun whatsovever.
Set in the year 2000, for the sole reason of a punch line at the end of the film that is so obvious that it’s pointless, the flick charts the fall of the eponymous upper-middle class couple (Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni) as the financial rug is unexpectedly pulled from under them. It starts when Dick achieves his dream of making it to the 52nd floor of Globodyne as its newest VP. Things move fast for Dick. His very first day on the job, he’s told by the company's slimy CEO (Alec Baldwin) to appear on a financial news program and spread the gospel of Globodyne’s bright future. It’s a set-up, with even Ralph Nader on board to kick his virtual booty as the stock ticker shows the company’s stock taking a nosedive into oblivious. Why Ralph Nader? Well, why not? It makes no more sense than anything else in this mess.
In short order, Globodyne is history and so are Dick’s job, savings, and pension. Jane’s job is history, too, because, somehow unaware that there was trouble on the horizon despite all the publicity, she has quit her travel agency in a way that must have involved thoroughly burning bridges. It’s something left to the imagination, rather than being explored for continuity, internal logic, or, heavens forefend, being mined for its comic possibilities. Much like what they do next, which is to hang on to their maid even though their sources of income have gone poof and their house has dropped so much in value that selling it would only put them deeper into the fiduciary hole. Dick soon learns that’s he’s competing with droves of other unemployed VPs and the only thing that makes him stand out from the grey-suited crowd of job seekers is that television appearance, which isn’t a resume builder.
The film takes far too short a time setting up Dick and Jane for their fall and then takes way too long floundering. Or maybe it’s just that the floundering isn’t funny. They endure a lawn repossession (when their check bounces, unaccountably, three months later), resort to selling their belongings and then to jobs at a local gym and a big-box store with disastrous results, and finally deportation in a script with no zing and direction that is like watching a second-rate, too earnest documentary. By the time they finally hit on the idea of armed robbery, the palpable sense of desperation permeating the proceedings isn’t Dick and Jane trying to stay afloat financially, it’s the film trying to stay afloat artistically (it fails).
Leoni, who has what I’ve often described as the comedic equivalent of perfect pitch, is here so straight-jacketed by the direction, the script, or both, has had that magical gift squished down into a black hole and sucked into another dimension. She’s left to look alternately puzzled and adoring with nothing in between. Even her fine sense of physical comedy is curtailed to a bare minimum. Carry, on the other hand, shows little restraint. Perhaps it’s his name listed as one of the producers that explains the extended and highly self-indulgent sequences when he wallows in physical schtick for which he himself can’t seem to work up much enthusiasm, treating it like the shop-worn, recycled business it is.
The original version of FUN WITH DICK AND JANE from 1977 was a sharp social satire with the advertised fun, and a wicked kind of fun at that. This version ain’t.