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Fun but little substance in remake of 'Dick and Jane' Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni turn to crime for laughs

Dick is married to Jane. Both are smiley and nice.

They have a son named Billy and a dog named Spot. They're nice, too (though Spot does bark a bit).

They have a nice house in the suburbs, a BMW in the garage and a couple of nice jobs. He's long been on the veep track at Globodyne, and she's a travel agent.

When Jane hears that Dick has finally been summoned to Globodyne's 51st floor and told that his veepship has finally come in, she gets very excited.

"You know what we should do" she says breathlessly. "We should HAVE SEX! . . . On Saturday."

When Globodyne turns into the latest Enron and Worldcom to go belly up and he loses his job (she's already quit hers), they discover just how downwardly mobile they truly are.

Because all their benefits were in Globodyne stock, they have no parachute -- golden, nylon or burlap. They're just white collar rejects. "We followed the rules and we got screwed," says Dick. "We're good people, honest people, and we got screwed."

So they go on a crime spree. They become the type of stickup artists who hold up a Starbucks -- and make sure they take some muffins with them as they lam out.

Their sex lives become a lot more exciting (the thrill of it all seems to smash them together at locomotive force).

"Fun With Dick and Jane" should have been a good movie the first time around in 1977 -- a serious movie pretending to be a comedy. It wasn't.

It should have been even better this time around. It isn't.

It does have Jim Carrey, of course, who is a force of nature on screen and therefore always good for chuckles, chortles, even a couple of belly laughs.

It's a remake of a movie starring Jane Fonda and George Segal and directed by Ted Kotcheff (who is now the executive producer of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit".)

All that really distinguished the first was a quickly excised scene in which Fonda and Segal carried on a conversation while she matter-of-factly pulled down her pants, sat on the toilet and went to the bathroom. Those of us who saw it in its opening week saw the scene. Nobody did afterward. It was decided high up on a 51st floor somewhere that major American movie stars just don't go to the bathroom -- not on camera anyway.

One of the original writers was the great Canadian comic novelist Mordecai Richler, so some of us had high hopes for the original.

I even had high hopes for the new version because remaking it with Carrey as star (and producer) was a truly great idea.
Not only is Carrey a man who can create gale force laughter out of the veiled insanity of American niceness, he's a man who knows, from life, just how short a distance there can be between the middle class and homelessness.

His father lost a good job at the age of 51, and the whole family was eventually forced to live out of their van. They worked as a night cleaning crew, with a teenage Carrey scrubbing toilets and dodging racist hostility among the employees.

In the era of Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling, the movie, then, should have had steam coming out of its ears. For a while, it does. But, then, just as it did in the original, the steam turns into nice safe espresso fumes.

Certainly, there's righteous wrath beneath the jokes here (stay for the list of executive miscreants "thanked" at film's end).

But everything at the end turns, well, very, very nice. Carrey's shtick gets laughs, Tea Leoni (as Jane) continues to be the most lovely and underrated comic heroine in movies and Alec Baldwin continues the long streak of hilarious business big shots he began with "Glengarry Glen Ross."

It disappoints -- not horribly but more than enough.

But what it indicates is that Carrey is slowly turning into the most fascinatingly chaotic talent in movies. Huge comic talents always have difficulty in American movies attracting the top grade talent they need to be at their best. Carrey, often, is no exception.

But he's also a hugely complex man -- one, it seems, in perpetual war with himself. A clown of bold, wild genius co-exists inside him with a deeply empathetic and decent Canadian struggler who is genuinely baffled and grateful that he is among those in this world who is paid an eight-figure salary to make movies.

Add to the small gathering of combatants inside Carrey's head an ambitious actor and a man who often comes dangerously close to letting his public in on how weird and difficult it can be to be infinitely richer and more talented than almost everyone else he meets. He turns it into a joke -- i.e., pretending to be a spoiled Hollywood monster making zillions of dollars for other people -- but you don't have to look very hard to see the cauldron of the real man bubbling within.

All of this explodes into public consciousness every time a Jim Carrey movie comes out.

So much connected the difficulties of Carrey's early life to the comedy of "Fun with Dick and Jane" that I hoped the film would be wild, reckless and hilarious in a white hot way.

It isn't.

It's funny enough, when it has to be.

And when it probably shouldn't have been, it's nice.

Very, very nice.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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>Movie Review:

Fun with Dick and Jane

Review: Two 1/2 stars (Out of four)

Rated: PG-13

Jim Carrey, Tea Leoni and Alec Baldwin in a comedy about a downwardly mobile suburban couple who take up crime to pay the bills. Directed by Dean Parisot. Opening today in area theaters.

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