Grade: D

The first movie of this title–from 1977–wasn’t much fun, and this updating is even less so. The old picture, which starred George Segal and Jane Fonda as a couple who turned to crime after he’d lost his high-paying job in the aerospace industry, aspired to be a wild counter-cultural, anti-establishment farce of the sort that flourished in the post-Watergate era, but it failed miserably not only because of its utter lack of ethical backbone (the “heroes” were ultimately as morally bankrupt as the businessmen who “ruined” their lives) but also because it was sloppily directed and edited. The present version also wants to take a slap at corruption at high levels: Dick loses his job in this instance because the corporation he works for is looted by its unscrupulous executives, in the fashion of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. But that aspect of the picture is treated in the clumsiest sitcom fashion; it’s just the excuse for some cheap and cruddy gags rather than any truly stinging satire. (Thus the final credit crawls “thanking” malefactors like Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers.) Nor is a big scam subplot in which the couple scheme to steal back the millions with which the firm’s CEO has absconded particularly clever (or skillfully laid out). No, this “Fun With Dick and Jane” is actually nothing more than a showcase for Jim Carrey to make a lot of funny faces, run around zannily and take plenty of pratfalls. He also served as one of the project’s producers–and should have known better.

Set in 2000 to allow for a big Enron joke at the end, the movie introduces us to Jane (Tea Leoni), a harried travel agent, and Dick (Carrey), an ambitious exec at a big corporation called Globodyne, living the good life on credit cards and mortgages in their big suburban home. When he’s promoted to VP for press relations, Dick is overjoyed–and so’s Jane, who abruptly quits her job in anticipation of his big paycheck. But when the newly-installed Dick’s confronted with some highly uncomfortable questions about the company’s executives dumping their stock on a TV show called “MoneyLife,” the firm tanks, and Dick and everyone else are out of work. Sunk in debt and unable to find work save for a stint as a day laborer (leading to a gruesomely unfunny episode in which he’s mistaken for an illegal alien by INS) while his wife lends her face out for Botox trials with unfortunate results and they sell off all their furniture, Dick hits on the idea of becoming a crook to get the cash needed to save their home and lifestyle. Some slapstick robberies follow, which morph into a rather simple-minded plot concocted with another ex-executive, one who was in on the looting the company but is now regretful (Richard Jenkins), to con the scurrilous CEO (Alec Baldwin) out of his stash in order to distribute it among all the old employees denuded of their pensions.

There’s not an awful lot to admire about “Fun With Dick and Jane.” The running-time is mercifully brief (the picture barely runs ninety minutes), and it’s decently shot. And the “MoneyLife” scene is mildly funny (though the graphic of the company stock falling to zero as the interview continues is, of course, a technical impossibility). But director Dean Parisot has little sense of style, and the picture isn’t shaped with any skill. And even on its own low level, the plot’s pretty much a mess. We’re apparently supposed to sympathize with Dick and Jane, but that’s a lot to ask, because essentially they’re both dimwits responsible for their own plight and ready to save themselves by stealing from others (the fact that they’re taking less than the bigger thieves is hardly an excuse), and their turn to social responsibility at the close is hardly enough to change one’s opinion of them. And the script has continuity blunders that render it more senseless still. As already noted, the story’s set in 2000, but the year actually seems garbled (there’s a big “Gore-Lieberman” sign in one scene, but an earlier clip seems to feature President George W. Bush talking about the fine state of the economy on his watch; worse, at the end a commentator reports that this is the first time the CEO of a failed company has used his profits to help the employees thrown out of work–a remark that would make sense only if the well-known scandals had already occurred, although they’re supposed to be still in the future). And there’s a weird scene in which the couple’s little boy throws a fit over the removal of their television set, although we’ve already seen the electricity cut off, making the appliance pointless. And then there’s the over-the-top tone. Carrey is permitted to mug shamelessly throughout, not least in that awful day-laborer bit and another in which he tries to recreate the front lawn his landscapers have demolished for non-payment. Leoni is understandably overshadowed by this exhibition, although she does manage a few nice moments. But the best work in the movie comes from Jenkins, whose drunk shtick ranks with Oliver Platt’s in “The Ice Harvest,” and Baldwin, whose comic timing as the corrupt CEO looks especially skilled beside Carrey’s overplaying (although, it must be admitted, his similar turn in “Elizabethtown” was superior).

So it may be the holidays, but Carrey and his cohorts offer precious little cheer here.