Keeping up with the Joneses (United States, 2016)

October 20, 2016
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Keeping up with the Joneses Poster

Keeping up with the Joneses (not to be confused with the better 2010 film The Joneses) is a paint-by-numbers, creatively bankrupt “comedy” emerging from a studio system that has largely forgotten what it means to be genuinely funny. Lazily written and indifferently filmed, this sendup of action/spy movies rarely works as a satire and becomes downright unbearable when it attempts to do things like character/relationship building.

The premise, which is as tired as it sounds, postulates that happily married suburban couple Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) have their lives turned upside down with the arrival of their new neighbors, the Joneses. This couple is not only adept at everything but they’re impossibly fit and good looking. Since Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot) are too good to be true, Karen is immediately suspicious of them - with good reason. As the Gaffneys eventually discover (after doing a little spying and nearly being killed in an ambush), the Joneses are covert CIA agents tasked with discovering a tech engineer who’s selling top secret circuits to an arms dealer (Patton Oswalt). Apparently, hilarity is supposed to ensue but I missed that part. Something I didn’t miss was an inordinately long car chase that is supposed to be exciting but instead nearly put me to sleep.

It’s head-scratching that something this bland and generic could come from director Greg Mottola, whose resume includes Superbad and Adventureland, both of which were well-rounded and funny. Maybe the problem in this case is the action elements. There’s nothing special or interesting about them. They function as filler, adding enough to the running time to keep it north of 90 minutes. There are a few laughs but most of the comedy is too obvious to generate more than a grimace. If you can see a joke coming from a mile away, laughter isn’t likely to follow. One visual gag involving a man and a big window might have been more amusing if I hadn’t seen it in The Hudsucker Proxy. (Although, to be fair, I may be the only one seeing Keeping up with the Joneses who has seen that underappreciated Coen Brothers’ gem.)

As the physically appealing spy couple, chiseled Jon Hamm and statuesque Gal Gadot are perfectly cast. If nothing else, Keeping up with the Joneses convinced that Warner Brothers made the right choice in selecting Gadot as the new Wonder Woman (something her extended cameo in Batman v Superman wasn’t able to do). Hamm, with his square jaw and invincible aura, is Central Casting’s perfect stereotype of an American James Bond. Less successful are Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher. Galifianakis has perhaps gone to this well - the inept, Andy Kaufman-esque weirdo with a heart of gold - a few too many times. I didn’t like him here any more than in Masterminds. His shtick is starting to wear thin (shades of Melissa McCarthy). Isla Fisher isn’t as annoying as her co-star but she doesn’t do much to distinguish herself. Looking back at the film, it’s easy to forget she’s in it.

Maybe there’s a hidden desire for action/spy movie parodies that I’m unaware of. Even if there is, however, it’s hard to imagine Keeping up with the Joneses gaining much traction. It’s not funny enough to work as a comedy. The characters aren’t developed with enough finesse for us to care about them. The action is dull. The plot is a jumble. The whole endeavor is poorly conceived and executed without anything special to recommend it. On a technical level, it’s not terribly made but for all the enjoyment I got out of it, it might as well have been.

Keeping up with the Joneses (United States, 2016)

Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Patton Oswalt
Screenplay: Michael LeSieur
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Music: Jake Monaco
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 2016-10-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1