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Fun With Dick and Jane

Sony Pictures // PG // December 6, 2005
List Price: $14.94 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted January 4, 2006 | E-mail the Author
An upwardly mobile couple suddenly finds themselves broke and "nouveaux poor" in Fun With Dick and Jane (1977), a mildly amusing comedy that also lacks focus and meanders aimlessly through its second act. Released to DVD in conjunction with the release of yet another unasked-for remake, 2005's already forgotten comedy with Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni, this original version isn't dull and is fairly crammed with ideas, but overall it never really comes together.

Top-billed (yes, top-billed) George Segal stars as Dick Harper, an executive at Taft Aerospace who's fired by corrupt and boozing boss Charlie Blanchard (The Tonight Show's Ed McMahon); in the years following the Apollo 11 moon landing, the aerospace industry has been in a terminal slump. Dick and wife Jane (Jane Fonda) had been living an upper-middle class fantasy spending way beyond on their means: boat parked in the driveway, Mexican cook, game room stocked with jukebox and slot machine, brand-new swimming pool. With Dick out of work, their son Billy wonders, "Does that mean we're gonna be poor like the Waltons?"

But initially Dick and Jane are blithely unconcerned. "What are we going to do about the pool?" Dick asks aloud.

"We won't heat it," Jane answers, ready to make the supreme sacrifice.

But soon things get much worse. Their new lawn and shrubbery are repossessed, Dick's unemployment checks - $104/week, "Top dollar," says new friend Raoul (Hank Garcia) - can't keep pace with their mortgage payments, and Jane's new job as a fashion model ends in disaster.

Desperate, Dick and Jane eventually turn to a shady loan company prepared to loan them a grand at 18 1/2% interest. ("18 1/2% interest!" Jane exclaims, "That's against the law!" Were it only so, Jane.) And, wouldn't you know it, just as they've signed the papers the loan company is robbed and Jane is nearly kidnapped. However, during the melee Jane manages to pocket $2,000 of the crooks' money, and this eventually convinces Dick that the only way they can stay ahead of their bills is to become hold-up men themselves.

Fun with Dick and Jane is all over the map, with a lot of good ideas and an equal number of bad ones. The film alternates between social satire and wild slapstick (Jane's clumsy efforts at modeling, resulting in a sight gag more appropriate to Mel Brooks), and never really has a handle on the main characters. The film is primarily a vehicle for Segal (then at the height of his unfathomable stardom) and Fonda, which may explain why the screenplay strains to make this basically unsympathetic, empty-headed couple likeable.

They are shown to be outrageously frivolous and materialistic, and the film's early scenes do a pretty good job making fun of their child-like confusion and reaction to suddenly having no more money to spend. Dick is taught the ins and outs of cheating the system by Raoul, while Jane berates the landscapers who've come to repossess the lawn in a desperate attempt to keep up appearances and keep her newfound poverty hidden from the neighbors.

But if the first third of the picture leans toward an edgy and unflattering portrait of insatiable consumerism, a cautionary satire that pretty accurately predicts an American middle-class hopelessly in debt, the rest of the film is merely as frivolous as Dick and Jane themselves.

The film's second half consists mostly of little vignettes, as Dick and Jane become small-time crooks. Predictably their first efforts are absurdly inept (Segal has a funny exchange with a druggist, played by Harry Holcombe) but eventually they become almost glamorous. Three screenwriters (at least) adapted Gerald Gaiser's novel, including Dick Van Dyke Show scribe Jerry Belson. One suspects each took his shot separately rather than pool their ideas as a group; the inconsistent tone and pacing of the film supports this.

To its credit, Fun With Dick and Jane is pretty funny at times, and it's refreshing to see a film so politically incorrect. Dick hangs out with illegal Hispanic immigrants turning food stamps into quick cash, and later Dick and Jane encounter a bunch of black janitors, cleaning ladies, and security guards who party in Charlie Blanchard's liquor-stocked office while they try to break into his safe. Ultimately, the film isn't racist because it's the wealthy white company executives who are more corrupt than anyone else. Indeed, the film's utter cynicism for absolutely everybody seems very contemporary in 2006.

Video & Audio

Fun With Dick and Jane is presented in an enhanced transfer of 1.77:1 that approximates its original 1.85:1 theatrical release version. The title elements are in bad shape, incredibly grainy with tepid color (original lab work by Metrocolor), but once the film starts the image pops into requisite clarity with a sharp image and decent color. The mono audio is okay. In a blast from Sony's past, the DVD offers optional subtitles in no less than seven languages: English, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean, but curiously not French. The feature is preceded by a 16:9 trailer for the 2005 remake, but otherwise there are no Extra Features.**

Parting Thoughts

Fun With Dick and Jane is no comedy classic, but rather more a relic of its era with just enough laughs to make for a passable 90-odd minutes.

**A contributor to the IMDb notes that the network broadcast version included several scenes not in the theatrical release. These would have made an interesting supplement, but for whatever reason are not included on the DVD.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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