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Desperate pleasure

Jim Carrey, Tea Leoni are brilliant as partners in crime in a satiric remake of the 1977 film

Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni play Dick and Jane Harper, one of those supersuccessful suburban couples for whom there's nowhere to go but up, up, up. Until, of course, their luck runs out.

After Dick loses his long-awaited vice president job in a corporate corruption scandal (he was just a patsy), the Harpers make a fast, hilarious skid into poverty.

Dick has to trade in his new BMW for a beat-up Ford, their meals come from soup kitchens, and the housekeeper has to be paid with their new appliances. When their only child catches mom and dad hauling away the plasma screen television, he wails the way kids do for a dead pet.

The joke is not that the Harpers are poor. It's that they handle their indigence ridiculously: The sight of the family being reduced to bathing via oscillating lawn sprinkler is one of several very funny humiliations. And there is even lower for them to go.

Facing foreclosure on their McMansion, Dick and Jane let go of their remaining shreds of civility and turn larcenous. They rob banks, coffee shops, and car dealerships, always in disguise (once, outrageously, as a gender-reversed Sonny and Cher), until the TVs are back and their brown lawn is green again.

But Dick and Jane are dismayed to discover that Dick's former co-workers have become just as desperate in their joblessness -- cockfighting rings and pot harvesting! Plus, Dick is facing indictment. So he aims his rebellion at the riches of his old boss, played by Alec Baldwin with a Colonel Sanders accent.

Writers Nicholas Stoller and Judd Apatow (''The 40-Year-Old Virgin") have refashioned ''Dick and Jane" from the 1977 George Segal-Jane Fonda vehicle that riffed on ''Bonnie and Clyde." Their remake is more devilish, hitting its targets with the reckless glee required for a round of Whac-A-Mole.

The setting is California in 2000, at the start of a wave of corporate scandals, and the movie plugs into the popular intolerance, cynicism, and ambivalence toward the world's megacompanies: We can't live with 'em, but . . .

The film, however, doesn't collapse under the weight of its righteousness. As satires go, this is a drive-by shooting that tickles. Director Dean Parisot has directed episodes of ''Monk" and that short-lived gem ''Bakersfield, P.D.," as well as the sci-fi spoof, ''Galaxy Quest." For ''Dick and Jane," his touch is light and his pacing is speedy without turning slick.

I only wished the movie slowed down to appreciate the good actors who turn up in microscopic parts, including Stacey Travis, Laurie Metcalf, and John Michael Higgins. (Ralph Nader has a cameo, too, and there's a fine lampoon of Lou Dobbs.) The underappreciated Richard Jenkins does find time to pocket a few scenes. He plays a senior corporate crook who's now the spineless drunk helping Dick and Jane get revenge on Baldwin.

Jenkins is his usual great self, and Carrey and Leoni are theirs, too. He's rubber. She's Teflon. Watch him slide off her nerves. It's good to see Leoni purely enjoying herself after the impossible stress of ''Spanglish." She gets to be a comedian again, not a punching bag.

And Carrey's previous forays into seriousness have given ballast to his lunatic physicality. Now when his body breaks down, his heart appears to follow. In one scene, Dick, having suffered his last indignity, watches Jane sleep in peace. His face is covered in dirt. His eyes have welled up with tears. And he gives a speech about being fed up with living this way.

A few years ago, this moment would have been Carrey mugging in another throwaway comedy. Now he's Henry Fonda in ''The Grapes of Wrath."

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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