by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
In the comfort of their quiet suburban cul-de-sac, Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) are living the dream. His position as HR administrator at a local tech company that does business with the government is going great and her freelance work as an interior designer is going as well as ever, and with their kids away at summer camp they suddenly have the freedom to do whatever they want whenever they feel like doing it. But that doesn't mean things aren't starting to feel a little staid, a little boring, the non-threatening routine of their day-to-day lives making both feel as if they've lost that spark that gave them energy when they were wide-eyed newlyweds.
Enter the Joneses, Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot). They're new to the cul-de-sac, and they couldn't appear to be more stereotypically perfect if they both wanted to. But behind the delicious baked goods and the adventurous stories of what it's like to gallivant across the globe as a travel writer lies a secret, and it's one that leads right to Jeff and Karen's doorstep. Suddenly the fate of the free world lies in the unsure hands of the Gaffneys, and it's up to the Joneses to make sure their new neighbors rise to the challenge of keeping a firm grasp on it.
Considering Greg Mottola directed The Daytrippers, Superbad, Adventureland and Paul, I had moderate hope that Keeping Up with the Joneses would be a solid comedy-action throwback in the vein of Undercover Blues, Romancing the Stone or The In-Laws (the 1979 original, not the terrible 2003 remake). Granted, considering writer Michael LeSieur was the guy behind the scripts for You, Me and Dupree and The Maiden Heist, maybe I should have done a better job keeping those expectations in check. As it is, the movie isn't so much a disaster as it is a blandly forgettable waste of time, not doing much of anything to warrant seeing it in a theatre yet not being so terrible that I could ever begrudge anyone for deciding to give it a chance.
Personally, I look at this as a 'laundry day' piece of pop entertainment. That means, when it shows up on Cable television, say on TBS or TNT, and I'm cycling through channels sitting on the couch folding laundry, Keeping Up with the Joneses is the exact sort of feature I'd likely leave on while I finish the task. Completely disposable, engagingly just enough and with nothing so extreme going on that I'd ever feel like I'd either miss something or become so absorbed in it that I'd stop working, there's just not a lot more to it. That's it. Nothing else, and as far as tons more to talk about, I haven't a whole lot to say.
Going through the motions, I will happily state that Hamm is as sexy and as fun to be around as ever, and while he's clearly on autopilot somehow that doesn't make him any less engaging. Even better is Fisher. She's all-in, having an obvious blast as she throws herself into this absurd wackiness with freewheeling jubilation. More, though, she also remembers to give an actual performance, her transitions as she pieces the puzzle together, figures out what is going on and discovers a form of inner confidence and strength she didn't know was there moderately appealing.
Galifianakis is Galifianakis, and other than admitting I liked him slightly more in his other fall high-concept comedy Masterminds, he more or less plays the part to expectation and not much more than that. As for Gadot, let's just say this sort of thing might not be her bag; and while the Fast and Furious heroine and the current Wonder Woman looks terrific in action, watching her try to generate anything akin to a laugh is honestly rather painful. She has zero chemistry with Hamm, which, now that I write it down, seems sort of impossible, yet somehow that's the case and, unlike her costars, Gadot doesn't appear to be having anything close to a good time.
LeSieur's script is never as smart or as incisive as I think it wants to be, and a third act twist involving the identity of a world-renowned arms merchant is much ado about nothing, wasting a veteran, usually incredibly humorous comic in a throwaway part they frustratingly can do precious little with. In fact, pretty much the entire supporting cast is wasted, most notably Kevin Dunn as the head of security at Jeff's company, none of them getting to do much more than act like idiots or get shot, sometimes both at the same time.
Mottola does stage a couple of nice action sequences, notably a crackerjack, if utterly loony, car chase through an abandoned warehouse district with flying motorcycles, Galifianakis hanging out the back window of an escape vehicle and Gadot showcasing lethally pinpoint marksmanship with a variety of weapons. I also quite liked a short sequence where Jeff and Karen take it upon themselves to investigate their new neighbor's home when they're out for the night, Fisher showcasing her comedic ingenuity with enchanting grace.
These positives aside, there is no single decent reason to spend good money to see Keeping Up with the Joneses at the multiplex. In fact, I'm not even sure there's one to warrant spending money on a rental when it ends up on VOD or at the local Red Box, and I sure as heck don't think anyone should pick up the Blu-ray when it's in the bargain bin at the neighborhood Wal-Mart. But when it's on cable? And you need something to watch while doing any number of household chores? At that point, by all means give the movie a look, because then, and really only then, will the viewer finally be getting their money's worth.
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