Editor’s Notes: Keeping Up with the Joneses is out in wide theatrical release today, October 21st.
In director Greg Mottola (Paul, Adventureland, Superbad) and writer Michael LeSieur’s (Me, You and Dupree) action-comedy, Keeping Up with the Joneses, suburbia might not be hell, but it’s a special kind of purgatory. It’s where reasonably successful (white) couples go to enjoy their post-adolescent, pre-retirement years, flush in material, albeit soul-crushing comfort, ensconced in stable, but excitement-free romantic lives, eager for something, anything to awaken them up from their self-imposed Stepford-like stupor and remind them of what really counts in life: Playing dress-up, driving fast cars (or being passengers in fast cars), and engaging in all-around, life-or-death mayhem with the safety and security of the United States (insert “USA! USA! USA!” chant here) at stake. Somewhere in their surface-deep critique of the ills of suburbia and suburban living, though, Mottola and LeSieur lost the message, missed the meaning, and forgot the reason why Keeping Up with the Joneses received the greenlight from a major studio in the first place: ABF (Always Be Funny). Excruciatingly dull, numbingly bland, and remarkably unadventurous, Keeping Up with the Joneses delivers one of the lowest laughs-to-running-time ratios in recent memory.
Somewhere in their surface-deep critique of the ills of suburbia and suburban living, though, Mottola and LeSieur lost the message, missed the meaning, and forgot reason why Keeping Up with the Joneses presumably received the greenlight in the first place:
When we first meet the couple at the center of Keeping Up with the Joneses (not the Joneses, the other couple), Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher), a relatively affluent couple who apparently live in a white people only suburb outside Atlanta, they’re tearfully waving goodbye to their two sons, gone, but not forgotten (summer camp). Empty nest syndrome hits them hard. With so much free time on their hands and seemingly little interest in reengaging physically and emotionally, they start spying on their new neighbors, Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot). The Joneses are everything the Gaffneys are not: They’re demi-gods striding into suburbia in fit, tanned mode. They’re also gregarious, seemingly eager to connect with the Gaffneys. Jim claims he’s a travel writer while Natalie claims she’s a social media consultant, a food blogger, and a charity fundraiser. They also claim they’ve moved to the suburbs for the peace, quiet, and the beautifully manicured lawns.
The Joneses, of course, aren’t what they seem. If they have different names, we never learn them. What we do learn, however, is that they’re spies, spies for the good guys (us, not them), in town to ferret out a mole at Jeff’s company. Jeff might work as a relatively powerless, mid-managerial level in Human Resources, but it’s the where, not the what: He works for an aerospace/defense company, MBI. Someone in Jeff’s company is set to sell trade secrets to an international arms dealer. At first, Jim uses his not inconsiderable charisma to convince Jeff they’re friends, taking him to a snake restaurants (snakes are eaten, sushi-style, seconds after meeting their premature deaths at the end of a butcher’s knife), but later recognizing Jeff as a potential friend. Jeff’s openness about his emotions and feelings that make him a semi-effective HR manager (he’s either great at conflict resolution or awful at it), but it also makes him a semi-effective, de factor marriage counselor to the Joneses (marital difficulties involving complacency, ruts, and familiarity breeding contempt).
Mottola, however, does little with Keeping Up with the Jones premise, botching one punchline after another, often after weak, undeveloped set-ups, delivering lazily shot, poorly edited actions scenes . . . .
Mottola, however, does little with Keeping Up with the Jones premise, botching one punchline after another, often after weak, undeveloped set-ups, delivering lazily shot, poorly edited actions scenes (see, e.g., 21 Jump Street for an action-comedy how-to), repeatedly relying on his actors to elevate fourth-rate material into third-rate status, but Galifianakis, Fisher, Hamm, and Gadot can only do so much. Galifianakis has perfect social and physical awkwardness to an art form, while Fisher’s irrational exuberance makes her watchable in practically anything she does. Hamm can do cool-guy reserve in his sleep and almost does here. Gadot essentially plays straight woman to Galifianakis, Fisher, Hamm, but she handles the brief bits of physicality with natural grace. More importantly, she’s markedly improved as an actress, especially from the Fast & Furious series. We’ll find out next year whether she can carry an entire film with Wonder Woman. On the strength of her recent performances, however, audiences can rest assured – not to mention take collective deep breaths – that Warner Bros. made the right call when they chose her to headline the Amazonian warrior-princess’ first big-screen, standalone film.
Excruciatingly dull, numbingly bland, and remarkably unadventurous, Keeping Up with the Joneses delivers one of the lowest laughs-to-running-time ratio in recent memory.