Fun With Dick and Jane (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

The movie’s leads are absolutely magnetic: Carrey captures Dick’s family-man heart with deft skill, Leoni’s Jane is loveably neurotic

Being a Jim Carrey fans requires some patience. Though best known and—if box office receipts are any indication—best loved for light-hearted slapstick, Carrey’s schizophrenic résumé cycles between crowd-pleasing comedies, thought-provoking dramas, and the occasional foray into children’s cinema. If you’re a fan of the wacky comedy Carrey on which has made his name since back in the days of In Living Color and Ace Ventura, it’s been a long wait through last year’s kid-friendly Lemony Snicket and the mind-bending Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which garnered Carrey a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy despite not being a particularly comedic movie). Carrey is finally back in familiar territory with Fun With Dick and Jane, a slice-of-life comedy that harkens back to the wackier days of Bruce Almighty and Liar Liar.

Carrey plays Dick Harper, a middle manager working his way up the corporate ladder in the faceless Globodyne Corporation. In a brisk opening clip echoing the classic Dick and Jane children’s books, we meet Dick, his lovely wife Jane (Téa Leoni), his perfect son, his perfect dog, and his perfect suburban existence. Dick’s life seems to be taking a turn to even bigger and better things when Globodyne’s CEO, Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin, channeling equal parts Southern charm and snake oil salesmanship), promotes Dick to VP status and assigns him a deceptively simple first job: give the company’s quarterly report on a financial TV show. What Dick doesn’t know is that Globodyne is taking an Enron-worthy swan dive, and he has the unpleasant position of scapegoat. When the company tanks and McCallister escapes with all its assets, not only is Dick unemployed but, as Globodyne’s very public face, he is also unemployable. If only Dick hadn’t encouraged Jane to quit her job…

When several well-meaning attempts to hold onto their little piece of suburbia fail and Dick and Jane are 24 hours from being out on the street, they turn to armed robbery to make ends meet. When Dick encounters the company’s former CFO Frank Bascombe (Richard Jenkins), the fall guy on his way to a slap-on-the-wrist prison sentence, a plan is hatched to finally give the slimy McCallister the comeuppance he so richly deserves.

Fun With Dick and Jane, an update of the 1977 film starring George Segal and Jane Fonda, is a likeable lightweight comedy mixed with wicked, timely satire on the state of Corporate America. At this point in his career, Carrey could easily sleepwalk through a plot like this, but this particular film, fortunately, won’t let him get away with that, thanks to a strong, smart screenplay by Judd Apatow (the Freaks and Geeks co-creator whose 40-Year-Old Virgin redefined the R-rated comedy) and Nicholas Stoller (who worked with Apatow on the short-lived TV sitcom Undeclared). There are no easy jokes or inane pratfalls here; instead, Apatow and Stoller base the comedy on the characters and their interactions, making comedy for the masses with surprisingly depth. It helps that the movie’s leads are absolutely magnetic; Carrey captures Dick’s family-man heart with deft skill, Leoni’s Jane is loveably neurotic (a toned-down version of her similar role in Spanglish), and the two play off of each other perfectly, as Jane is always there to rein in Dick’s wilder tendencies.

Dick and Jane’s only real failing is its pacing. Director Dean Parisot keeps the action coming fast and furious, with each of the story’s chapters bridged with a brisk montage set to upbeat but oddly dated music (Sublime? What year is this?), and the film breezes by at a fast clip until the movie’s final scenes, where Parisot settles down to focus on Dick and Jane’s final caper. The first three-fourths of the movie flies by so quickly compared to the final few minutes, however, that it’s almost as if the movie has a beginning and an end with no middle. By the end of its 90-minute runtime, Dick and Jane feels over too fast to be fully satisfying.

Despite some relatively minor shortcomings, Fun With Dick and Jane is a pleasant diversion, a quick-witted comedy with a propitious political point and two charismatic stars at the top of their game.

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