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Fun with Dick and Jane 

Mark Palermo on Dick and Jane and Hostel.

Jim Carrey, as everyman slob Dick, stands on top of a table in a high-class bar, ranting wildly about how the patrons (corporate employees) are just puppets. His wife Jane (Tea Leoni) tells off the bartender for serving her husband so many drinks to allow him to make such an animated fool of himself. The bartender replies that he only had half a beer. I just spoiled the one funny moment in Fun with Dick and Jane, and even that exemplifies the movie’s tonal misjudgement.

The movie takes the potentially exciting conceit of a former employee coping with the fallout of an Enron-like megacorporation and plays it as dopey as possible. Dick and Jane are stereotypical suburbanite capitalists who find themselves and their Spanish-speaking son living on the streets when Dick’s boss (Alec Baldwin) bankrupts the Globodyne Corporation.

Director Dean Parisot finds neither anger or humane comedy in their sudden homelessness — the way Chaplin’s Tramp character would always manage. A shot of the family showering with a neighbour’s garden hose is nothing more than a cheap chuckle. The material is so inherently loaded, the glib portrait is too glaring.

More often than not, the film appears desperate. In the opening scene, anticipating a job op, Dick sings R Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” while riding in an elevator. Jim Carrey’s awards-show persona is chipping away any hope of integrity. The scene also demonstrates the movie’s habit of using song lyrics to verbalize how characters feel.

When the couple turn to crime to reclaim their old wealth, it’s just a meaningless narrative distraction. The induction of violence as comic fodder for romance isn’t vile like in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but it’s not committed as satire either.


The pun in the title Hostel suggests both sanctuary and aggression. The movie has a similar split personality, alternately light on its feet and unpleasant to watch. What starts as a Eurotrip-style sex comedy takes a 180 From Dusk Till Dawn genre-reversal (FDTD scribe Quentin Tarantino is a producer) into grindhouse horror. Hostel director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) runs on a lot of bad ideas, but also some good ones. That the movie’s satire works at all is a result of how excessive he allows it to become.

American 20-somethings Paxton (Torque’s Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) go to Europe because it’s the land of legal dope and easy titties. Of course, things don’t turn out so well. The Wicker Man illusions (The Sneaker Pimps’ cover of Britt Eckland’s “How Do?” plays over a sex scene) refer to content more than tone. Hostel has the jokiest take on xenophobia of any movie since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The only thing more dangerous than foreigners is female foreigners. But Roth’s technique of setting up ignorant heroes and then punishing them for it is condescending and snide. The human slaughterhouse scenes are lingered on voyeuristically, as though Roth is just seeing how far he can take a horror movie and have it still open in mainstream theatres.

Trying to make cult movie extremes into something orthodox is a stupid fight, because it will disenfranchise the value these movies have as a fringe alternative. They’re no longer reacting against prominent entertainment. When Saw II, Hostel and House of Wax become a mainstream way of thinking, they’re corrupt.

Roth turns this popular hunger for excess into Hostel’s sharpest narrative twist — a gruesome parody of thrill-junkie culture that rivals Takashi Miike. It might not need to be pointed out that Hostel belongs to that culture. But that’s part of its sneaky duality.

Thrill junkies write:

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