As a screenwriter, the old axiom is to write what you know. But if you can't do that, at least do the research and write something that someone else will recognize or that will connect with them on some level, be it emotional, intellectual or just gut reaction. After all, some opinions aside, I doubt George Lucas ever stepped foot into that galaxy far far away, long long ago, but his little movie did just that.
With "Fun With Dick and Jane," writers Judd Apatow & Nicholas Stoller have kept things a little closer to home, namely that of people having jobs and then losing them. Since most people have been through one or both of those experiences, it's thus supposedly easy to identify with the main characters in this message comedy (yes, something of an oxymoron) from director Dean Parisot who last tried to elicit laughs from viewers on the big screen with 1999's "Galaxy Quest."
Diehard fans of Jim Carrey will likely enjoy the proceedings -- where the manic comic actor has seemingly just been let loose to do as he pleases (sometimes with funny results, sometimes not) -- but this remake of the original 1977 comedy isn't as sharp, witty or outrageously funny as it should be and apparently thinks it is.
Working from the film's original script, the screenwriters have reconfigured the plot elements a bit. Dick -- played by George Segal in the original film and Carrey here-- is no longer an aerospace executive and he isn't downsized as occurred the first time around. Instead, he's the new VP of communications at some sort of media properties consolidator who loses his job -- along with everyone else in the company -- thanks to corporate corruption and greed.
Like the last time around, he and the missus - played by Téa Leoni who takes over the part originated by Jane Fonda -- lose everything and became so desperate that they turn to a life of crime to make ends meet. But the end has been modified to make the suburban criminals seem a little, well, less felonious (although their actions don't make up for their reestablished lifestyle at the stuck-up hands of those they've robbed). Okay, it's supposed to be something of a socially conscious screwball comedy, so some things are meant to slide.
The problem -- of which there are several -- is that the whole corrupt corporation bit feels so early 2000s, back when the likes of Enron and Worldcom and their greedy leaders were sucking them and their stockholders dry. The end credits of this film -- that's set in the year 2000 to beat those corporate death spirals to bankruptcy -- personally thanks all of the corrupt companies that paved the way for its march to the big screen, but that only provides a brief chuckle, as does the rest of the related material in the film. That includes any supposed satirical bits about materialism, living beyond one's means and other such social conditions and/or illnesses.
Perhaps sensing that, Parisot apparently unleashed Carrey and sicced him on the material in hopes that the comedian's wild, unpredictable and decidedly off the wall mannerisms, behavior and such would save the day. For those who can't get enough of the stereotypical Carrey of old (the wild faces, voices, body movements, etc.), the actor will fit the bill.
For those who know he's so much more talented than just that sort of shtick, such material (which would be better suited for the outtakes section during the end credits than anywhere in the body of the film) will likely come off as something of a been there, seen it before letdown. Granted, some of it's funny, but it's old hat for both Carrey and us. And without a smart script and inherently funny situations that he can play off, his wild performance only seems that much more desperate this time around.
Although I know the plot basics of the original, I don't recall much about the overall effort and whether it was funny or not (it's literally been several decades since I last saw it). I do remember, however, that the likes of "9 to 5" covered the same sort of thematic material (the little guy -- or in that case -- ladies -- against "the man" representing the corporate world) in a far more entertaining fashion, and that still holds true in the comparison to this remake. Simply put, the filmmakers don't come up with enough fun or funny goals and then obstacles in the plot's two-pronged design (the first being where they rob anyone to get back on their feet and the second where they decide to get revenge).
The former includes the "you know you're in trouble when you see" dress up montage (where Carrey and Leoni rob places dressed like The Blues Brothers as well as Sonny and Cher -- with the "funny" bit being that the genders are reversed due to their height differences) that similarly reeks of desperate attempts for laughs.
The latter plot thrust actually gets a little better thanks to a more specific rather than general goal. Yet, having Richard Jenkins as a former executive turned drunken accomplice isn't as funny as intended, and Alec Baldwin (playing the big corporate cheese for the second time in a few months following "Elizabethtown") is neither as despicable nor as comically villainous as he needs to be.
While Carrey and Leoni are likable enough performers, the film really needs their characters to be more engaging and thus have us rooting for their success, if not during their initial robbery bits, at least in the big revenge scenario. After all, who hasn't fantasized at some point about getting even with "the man" (meaning anyone or any company above them who/that calls the shots) and thus would like to experience that vicariously through these characters?
The film may start off trying to be cute with the "See Dick" and "See Jane" bits from the old children's books, but in the end it's really nothing more than "See Jim go ape" in one scene after another. The film is occasionally humorous and/or funny, but not as hilarious or sharp as it could and should have been.