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‘Dick and Jane’ more fun this time around

Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni are a great team as suburbanites who turn to crime. By John Hartl
Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni decide that the only way to keep up with the Jones is to start robbing banks in "Fun with Dick and Jane."
Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni decide that the only way to keep up with the Jones is to start robbing banks in "Fun with Dick and Jane."Columbia Pictures

Beware of being promoted to Vice President of Communications. Especially if you’ll be required to explain, on broadcast television, the dubious finances of your Enron-style corporation.

That’s the lesson Dick (Jim Carrey) and Jane (Tea Leoni) learn in the opening reels of Dean Parisot’s loose remake of “Fun With Dick and Jane.” It’s smarter, funnier and shorter than the 1977 original, which starred George Segal and Jane Fonda as suburbanites who take up a life of crime when Segal loses his job as a well-paid, up-and-coming executive.

When Leoni’s impatient Jane quits her job, and Carrey’s nervous Dick is let go without even a paper parachute, they watch helplessly as their house is cleaned out, the electricity is shut off, their lawn is repossessed and an eviction notice is served. Eventually he’s reduced to working for a union-busting company that closely resembles Wal-Mart, and they’re selling appliances to their maid.

When Jane takes a small fee to submit to a medical experiment that ends up curling her upper lip, and Dick’s jaw is dislocated in a fistfight over a painting job, they can’t even carry on a conversation. Something has to give, and eventually they find themselves waving guns at cashiers and coming up with elaborate schemes to rob banks.

The screenwriters and Parisot, who directed the charming 1999 comedy, “Galaxy Quest,” allow them to get away with it, just as the filmmakers did in the first “Fun With Dick and Jane.” The new ending, which includes a well-deserved comeuppance for the chief villain, even carries a whiff of social relevance, though it doesn’t dwell on it too long.

Like the original movie, the new “Dick and Jane” is more than a little scattered. It doesn’t have the tightest narrative, and much of it is simply a catalogue of economic and social humiliations. How low can Dick and Jane and their child go? And how many of their former friends and colleagues will be forced to follow them to the brink of jail and bankruptcy?

Of course, there are compensations. Their boy is young enough that he loves to wallow in the mud where their lawn once was. Their sex life improves when they succeed at a holdup. Of course the soundtrack includes “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”

The potential to go over the top is always present when Carrey is the star and the script invites improvisation, but he’s actually on his best behavior here. His scenes with Alec Baldwin and Richard Jenkins, playing a couple of corporate slimeballs, are reminiscent of fidgety, needy Jack Lemmon trying to make an impression on his seedy bosses in “The Apartment.”

Carrey is allowed to run wild during a few slapstick moments, but Leoni is usually there to reign him in. She has a more subtle comic touch, and she seems to inspire him to tone things down. When the two of them are on-screen, comparing battle scars or saving money by showering in a neighbor’s sprinkler, the new “Dick and Jane” is hard to resist.