There’s very little to the premise of Keeping Up with the Joneses that could be construed as original. After all, we’ve seen in various movies over the years the story of new neighbors that enter the tightly knit world of suburbia, turning the community on their head before the facts reveal that these charming new neighbors aren’t who they seem. If there was going to be something that would help Keeping Up with the Joneses rise above its simple premise, it’d be the involvement of director Greg Mottola and star Zack Galifianakis, each with their own set of comedic skills that can elevate middling material. However, Keeping Up with the Joneses doesn’t find anything new in its premise. This is a comedy that’s in desperate need of its own identity and Mottola can’t find that identity even with the spirited performance of Galifianakis.
Jeff Gaffney (Galifianakis) works in the human resources department of an aerospace company in Atlanta. Though their children are away at summer camp, Jeff and his wife Karen (Isla Fisher) are incapable of reigniting their passion for one another. Their few moments of passion consist of popcorn and DVR’d episodes of The Good Wife. When a suave, stylish, and sexy married couple move in on their little cul-de-sac, Jeff and Karen are quick to befriend them. There’s Tim (Jon Hamm), who is a travel writer that blows glass sculptures as a hobby, and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot), who is a self-professed cooking blogger. They’re so idyllic in everything they do that is arouses the suspicions of Karen, who even goes as far to spy on Natalie while Jeff spends time bonding with Tim. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before their exposed as secret agents covertly working out of their suburban home. Then it only becomes a matter of whether or not the Joneses are on the side of good or are working for the forces of evil.
There are a few laughs spread throughout Keeping Up with the Joneses, but not nearly enough or at a consistent pace to warrant a recommendation. Playing a button-downed suburbanite, Galifianakis gives a strong performance as the kindhearted but awkward Jeff. The character’s affection for indoor sky diving is just one of a few quirks that lend a bit of charm to the character. As with the whole film, whenever it seems that there’s a bit of comedic chemistry between Galifianakis and Fisher, or Hamm, the script by Michael LeSieur gets sidetracked with its rather rote spy story. One scene of Galifianakis and Hamm’s characters bonding over a drunken meal at secret Chinese restaurant is deprived of its momentum due to the cutaways to a lengthy and pointless scene of Gadot and Fisher trying on lingerie. Look, the two women are certainly easy on the eyes, but the film as a whole loses itself in this elongated scene that just grinds the movie to a halt.
Supporting actors Matt Walsh and Maribeth Monroe are great in their limited roles, though they quickly fade from the picture much to its detriment. Outside of brief roles from Kevin Dunn, Bobby Lee, and a certain role best left undisclosed, they make up the extent of the film’s supporting characters. All of which leads to a movie that’s too obvious in its reveals and incredibly restrained on a character level. The farcical elements of the Gaffeys knowing the truth about of the Joneses and attempting to keep up appearances around fellow mundane suburbanites is a concept that’s never even approached for laughs. It basically leads to a movie that’s quite comical in its opening scenes and just fades completely once it morphs into a generic action flick.
Mottola is a very good director working with a very underwhelming script. For a filmmaker that’s work primarily in comedy, he does a wonderful job with the film’s action set pieces, though it’s the fact that they’re devoid of laughs that undermine the movie. The weakest visual aspect of Keeping Up with the Joneses is the overlit cinematography of Andrew Dunn, who gives the film a glossy sheen that makes the film look garish and cheap. It’s very much keeping with the trend that runs through the movie – for everything that the film does right, it does two more things wrong.
For his first theatrical film since 2011’s Paul, though he did do the HBO movie with Larry David Clear History, Keeping Up with the Joneses can’t help but feel like a crushing disappointment considering the level of quality that Mottola has provided in the past (his 2009 film Adventureland is still criminally underrated). Keeping Up with the Joneses just never earns its own personality and comes across as simply a modestly better version of Central Intelligence. There are all these factors to Keeping Up with the Joneses that could really be mined for some great comedy, even if it is fairly unoriginal, but this just isn’t that movie with its uneven joke delivery that muddles some pretty spirited performances.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
An unoriginal premise in dire need of its own identity, Keeping Up with the Jonses has a couple of laughs scattered about this action-comedy yet never coheres into anything more than the most mild of distractions.