Keeping Up With the Joneses is one of those movies you really, really want to like. It has an enjoyable cast, some promising ideas and a fish-out-of-water premise that when done correctly, is always fun to be a part of. And who doesn’t like Jon Hamm? He may be best known for his turn on the advertising drama, Mad Men, but having shown great comedic chops with his numerous pop-ins on Saturday Night Live, he settles into this story with ease, matching barbs and clever wits with more seasoned comediennes. It seems, though, that this is where the movie sort of rests, meandering through the potential bubble without ever being able to burst through and delight us the way it promises, instead playing it safe and doing just enough to satisfy its target audience without ever truly blowing them away.
Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney, an ordinary suburban couple who are, of course, stuck in a suburban rut. They live their daily lives on a basic routine where nothing ever changes and have very little energy or wherewithal to do much but go to their average, somewhat mundane jobs, return home and hang out watching The Good Wife on DVR. Their sexual passion has been diminished to a quick kiss and a hug by two kids we never see, so much so that when both kids go off to summer camp, the couple still can’t find any passion or romance that might ignite life into their lives.
Enter Tim (Hamm) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot), a too-good-to-be-true, too pretty and accomplished couple who move into the house down the street. Karen questions their righteousness right off the bat when the couple buys their new home without ever once seeing it beyond the images they saw on the Internet. The more she gets to know them, the more she starts to believe her own paranoia, going so far as to follow Natalie while she struts around town and break into their home when they’re off on a dinner date. As the lonely head of HR at a top-secret technology firm, Jeff doesn’t put much validity in her conspiracy theories, believing Tim to be a normal guy whose biggest secret is hiding behind a lack of joy for his job as a travel writer. As Jeff and Tim begin to bond, Natalie helps Karen find a way to put a little spark back into their marriage. It’s during this failed attempt to follow through on the advice that the Gaffney’s discover that the Jones’s have bugged their home. Karen was right. The duo are actually spies.
The revelation stirs up a lot of questions. Are they good spies? Are they with the CIA? What are they doing in their neighborhood? But most importantly, is their friendship real, or simply a charade so that the Jones’s can get information out of them in regards to several co-workers who may be playing a part in international espionage? That is the premise for the the majority of the film, and it plays well enough. Everyone does a good job of representing the state-of-mind of their characters and the growth each of them encounter upon bonding with one another. It’s in the script where all of the major issues arise, remaining run-of-the-mill without ever trying to do anything fresh.
The first act of the film is especially bland. There are plenty of attempts at varied types of humor, but whether it’s mildly outdated (The Good Wife reference, for example) or just plain lazy, the humor either falls on deaf ears or is too over-the-top and ingratiating to be amusing. There are also moments of time lapse that seem to come out of nowhere and a few scenes that don’t seem to wrap themselves up, leaving you with a feeling of incompleteness. Further on down the line, the revelation of who the Jones’s are looking for is predictable, and the end game is also never truly explained — at least not coherently or completely — so there’s never any reason to care much for what’s happening outside of bringing the two families together.
But it’s in the strength of those core relationships where the movie finds a chemistry that lifts the film up from being a sour waste of time. The scenes pairing the couples together — bonding and sharing secrets that they normally wouldn’t share with anyone else — gives the film some much needed spice. There’s a moment toward the end of the second act when a frustrated Natalie complains that over ten years, the couple has never had their cover blown, but they somehow couldn’t even last a week in Suburbia before that very thing happened. This idea is explored nicely throughout the film, but the balance is off. There are a couple of good action sequences that lift the movie, a surprising cameo appearance by Patton Oswalt and a tag that’s much more fun than half of what came before it, but there still remains a lot to be desired when it comes to the overall flow of the movie. The cast does its best to give the film a wink and a smile, but there’s just too much generic blandness spilled out across the film to give it the electric energy it needed to succeed.
My Grade: B
Next week, new movies include Inferno. If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.