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Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 06:28 pm

Joneses Never Catches Fire

There’s no shortage of talent where Greg Mottola’s Keeping Up with the Joneses is concerned, a would-be comedy romp that never really generates enough laughs, or rompiness for that matter.  This is one of those films that looks great on paper, surely went into production with the highest of expectations and inexplicably lays before the audience’s feet like a lazy dog with an impressive pedigree.  This is a curious result, not simply because of who’s in front of the camera, but who’s behind it as well as director Greg Mottola has proven in the past (Superbad, Adventureland) to have a pretty good eye and ear where this whole comedy thing is concerned.  However, this time out, his cockeyed approach is hampered as well by a tin ear.

Natalie and Tim Jones (Gal Gadot & Jon Hamm) put on a false front in Keeping Up with the Jones.
Courtesy 20th Century-Fox Pictures.

The movie starts out intriguing enough as we’re introduced to the Gaffneys, two suburbanites who’ve become so numbed by routine they’ve forgotten how to live.  Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) is a human resources manager at an aerospace plant who relies a bit too much on rubber stress balls to solve everyone’s problems, while his wife Karen (Isla Fisher) is a frustrated interior decorator.  Having shuffled off the kids for the summer, these two have the opportunity to reignite the spark that’s faded between them; unfortunately the rut they’ve fallen into is a bit too steep for them to climb out of.  However, once their new neighbors move in, Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm & Gal Gadot), they start recreating scenes from Rear Window to get the dirt on this too-good-to-be-true couple.

Well, there is more to the Joneses than their gorgeous exteriors would suggest, as they’re revealed to be spies who, once Jeff and Karen find out too much, must use their new friends to complete their current mission.  This premise from screenwriter Michael LeSieur is somewhat inspired and does contain a few laughs but the tone of the film is wrong.  Mottola approaches this as if it were a sitcom (the tradition of casting a gorgeous woman as the wife of a run-of-the-mill Joe is alive and well here in the case of Fisher and Galifianakis), as one increasingly ridiculous situation trips on the heels of another.  Time isn’t spent on character development, as the director quickly goes from one scene to the next, hoping something will eventually stick.  Little of it does.  I’m pretty sure using a laugh track wouldn’t have helped either

Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis & Isla Fisher) are in over their heads in Keeping Up with the Jones.
Courtesy 20th Century-Fox Pictures.

To be sure, with the cast assembled there can’t help but be a glimmer of hope shining throughout, which in a way makes the final product all the more depressing.  One can’t help but wonder what would have resulted had Galifianakis and Fisher been turned loose (they’re both accomplished comedians), Gadot been given something more to do than just look gorgeous and Hamm allowed a bit of rope to display the sort of self-deprecating humor we’ve only seen in flashes in Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live. 

Unfortunately, Mottola sticks to the script and favors expediency over inspiration. The film’s third act is filled with the sort of extended car chases and action scenes viewers should come to expect with a sense of dread by now, while the revelation of the criminal mastermind behind all these shenanigans, which should have paid off in comic gold, falls flat.  In the end, Jones fails in its mission and the result is a movie of missed opportunities.  

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