Keeping Up With the Joneses Review

A SPY COMEDY DUD


 

Keeping Up with the Joneses” is an old saying (an idiom) that refers to the comparison to one’s neighbor social class or accumulation of material goods. If a person fails to “keep up with the joneses”, then that person is perceived (by his / her peers in society) as socio-ecomic or cultural inferiority. Now, playing upon those words (kind of), 20th Century Fox and director Greg Mottola present the action-comedy feature Keeping Up With the Joneses. Does this movie present some neighborly entertainment or should it be shunned by its peers (i.e. moviegoers)?

THE STORY


After seeing off their two boys off to summer camp, Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) are left with nothing but each other, facing the challenge of their now stale marriage. Moving into their comfy cul-de-sac are Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot), a seemingly perfect couple looking to a start a family (in suburbia) after years of their worldly travels of adventure and culture. Intrigued by their stories, Jeff is won over, welcoming the hopeful possibility of a neighborly friendship with Tim, sharing the humdrum tales of his days as an HR rep at a local aeronautics company. Karen, on the other hand, is more suspicious, spying on the new neighbors, sensing something is off after witnessing some of their secretive behavior. Interestingly, Karen is right, as Tim and Natalie are CIA operative agents on a special undercover mission, pulling the suburban couple into the line of fire and challenging their fears through a series of problematic situations.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


I can’t say that I’ve had that type of mentality…. the whole “Keeping Up with the Joneses”. Growing up, my parents were never like that with our neighbors as I grew up in a friendly neighborhood (not a snotty or stuck-up one in sight). Recently, I just bought my first house (hooray!) and my neighbors, on both sides of me, don’t seem that type, so neither will I be. However, you never know what the future holds…. haha (I know, it’s not much to say in my opening paragraph, but I couldn’t think of anything to say except this). Anyway, onto my movie review. I remember seeing the trailer for Keeping Up with the Joneses several times and found it to be humorous. I do like the feature’s initial setup and four main cast members, so it seemed likely that I was going to go see the movie. Unfortunately, after seeing the movie, I felt that Keeping Up with the Joneses was only mildly entertaining, producing a vanilla comedy that feels too generic to get excited about.

Director Greg Mottola, who’s works include the films Superbad, Adventureland, and Paul as well as several TV show episodes in Undeclared and Arrested Development, directs Keeping Up with the Joneses. As an action / comedy parody of sorts, Mottola keeps the feature (for the most part) light. Yes, there is still some PG-13 angst and gags in the movie (brief language, sexual innuendo, etc.), but it’s your standard PG-13 romp, which means it’s a safe bet for date night movie or a movie that you can watch and don’t have to get to heavily involved in (no brain-scratcher thinking necessary). One thing I do like to mention is the film’s premise seems fun, playing up the stereotypical suburb lifestyle (the whole cul-de-sac life) is pretty funny and how a new entity (the Joneses) comes in to disturb their quiet and contempt life. The humor in the Joneses is a mix bag of sorts. There are some of the comedy moments that good (nothing grand) and do produce a few chuckles here and there, but most of the feature’s humor is left a bit weak, missing their mark / target. As everyone says, comedy is subjective, so some might get more out of the film’s comedy than me. That’s just my opinion on its more humorous bits.

Perhaps the greatest problem in the Joneses is in its screenplay. Penned by Michael LeSieur, who previous work includes You, Me, and Dupree, Glory Daze, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (a 2018 CG animated remake), doesn’t really strive for anything fresh or new from the movie’s narrative. Think of Paul Feig’s Spy and Doug Liman’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith and you get Keeping Up with the Joneses (just a weak and watered down version of the two). There’s definitely elements of those two movies in this particular movie, but just the basics and (quite frankly) not enough of it. This lead into my next problem of the Joneses, which is takes a bit to get going. The trailer for the movie shows the film’s setup premise (the Gaffneys are your typical suburban couple and the Joneses are undercover spies), so the whole first act just restates that premise and it really doesn’t go nowhere, creating the standard mystery of the Joneses and some neighbor paranoia.

The whole “spy” element of the movie really doesn’t really come to fully light until a little bit after the film’s halfway point, which, at that moment in the movie, can’t drum up wholesome satisfaction from its viewers (at least that how it felt for me. Even the action scenes are a bit light, so just don’t expect something groundbreaking or elaborate sequences. LeSieur even toys with some character building moments for primary cast (i.e martial problems of Tim and Natalie, the stale marriage of Jeff and Karen, Tim hates his job, etc.), but these are just left dangling. LeSieur (or even Mottola) could’ve done more with these ideas, creating some more rounded characters, but, unfortunately, they don’t. All of this creates a very standard and formulaic narrative to follow, making the Joneses feel predictable, unoriginal, and tad unmemorable for its genre in the action / comedy field. As a side-note, the film’s trailer shows all the best scenes in the movie, leaving most of the feature bland, with a couple of mediocre sequences.

The cast for Joneses is made up four primary characters, who, in turn, are very recognizable faces in current Hollywood. These four not particularly “A-list” stars (i.e. Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, etc.), but they give the typical “star-power” need for a feature. Comedian actor Zach Galifianakis, famously known for his roles in The Hangover movies, definitely brings his atypical movie “buffoonery” to the Joneses as Jeff Gaffney. He gets to play to his strength, playing a couple of physical gags and socially awkwardness, but also a couple of light dramatic moments with Hamm’s Tim. It’s not really Galifianakis’s best, but his role of Jeff Gaffney is much better than his role as David Ghantt in the deplorable movie Masterminds. As for Tim Jones, Jon Hamm, known for Don Draper character in the TV show Mad Men, easily slides into the role, playing the cool and suave character and also handling himself in both humor and action stints. In addition, Hamm’s Tim is probably given the most depth, even though it’s still a shallow-esque character, providing more material to work with than his co-stars.

On the other hand, the women of the Joneses fair a bit less than their two male co-star leads.  Actress Isla Fisher, known for her roles in Wedding Crashers, Now You See Me, and Confessions of a Shopaholic, plays Jeff’s wife, Karen Gaffney. Unfortunately, the role of Fisher is nothing new, playing the bored suburban wife / mom character persona (even the bit of neighborly paranoia), who gets caught up in a very surreal situation with her husband. Though, Fisher doesn’t give all that she can in this very thinly-sketched role. Likewise, actress Gal Gadot, known for her roles in the Fast & Furious movies and the DCEU movies (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie), role of Natalie Jones is somewhat one-dimensional character. She’s perfectly fine as the steely and determined role (plus she’s definitely beautiful to look at), but theirs isn’t too much her character beyond what Mottola and LeSieur give and nothing indeed memorable (she better as Diana Prince rather than Natalie Jones). Basically, these actors (and actresses) have to rely on their natural acting talents and charisma to help elevate their respective caricatures. As a side-note, both Hamm and Gadot seem great together, sharing good chemistry and acting like a good neighbor “power couple” (i.e both are tall and are good-looking).

Lastly, the supporting players in Joneses don’t have much to do and are very sporadic, acting more like stock-like minor roles to filling in the gaps (in scenes) or plot devices. There are some familiar faces in this grouping, so keep an eye out for several of them.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The secret lives of Tim and Natalie Jones are uncovered in the comedy feature Keeping Up with the Joneses. Director Greg Mottola latest film has a fun premise with several humorous gags and its recognizable cast, who also seem to be having fun playing these roles. Unfortunately, the movie falters too much in its narrative structure, flat characters, uneven pacing, and unoriginal story, falling prey to predictability. To me, the movie was okay, a passable action / comedy feature that hits the standard beats and nothing more. I would say that Keeping Up with the Joneses is best viewed as rental, something to watch maybe once in your personal home media (i.e movie night or date night) or maybe just to skip it as it really doesn’t offer anything new or fresh for its genre or its premise. Basically, while the feature seems entertaining (via its trailer and marketing), Keeping Up with the Joneses is just another paint-by-numbers Hollywood film that’s short on innovation, sharp humor, and remembrance.

2.5 Out 5 (Rent It / Skip It)

 

Released On: October 21st, 2016
Reviewed On: October 26th, 2016

Keeping Up With the Joneses  is rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence, and brief strong language

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