Joneses falls far short of potential
Reviewed by Katie Walsh of Tribune News Service
A wise person once claimed comparison is the thief of joy wise words to keep in mind when impossibly perfect, gorgeous, worldly new neighbors move into the cul-de-sac, as they do in the action-comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses. But those Joneses (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) arent exactly what they seem, and have more than a few surprises up their tailored sleeves.
But the biggest surprise of Keeping Up with the Joneses is the first credit that pops onto the screen at the end of the film: Directed by Greg Mottola. For an action-comedy this shoddily schlocky, one doesnt expect to see the name of the director who helmed the comedy classic Superbad and the nuanced summer dramedy Adventureland.
Thats not to say that the film is necessarily without its merits, but its wildly uneven, riding on a half-baked script by Michael LaSieur and the energetic efforts of star Zach Galifiankis. In concept, its all there: Galifianakis as fuddy-duddy suburban dad Jeff Gaffney, the delightfully unhinged Isla Fischer as his wife, Karen; Hamm and wonder woman Gadot as their new super-sexy spy neighbors, Tim and Natalie. But theres something not quite right; this one needed more time in the oven.
Its a twist on the Mr. and Mrs. Smith concept that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie perfected back in 2005, but instead of hiding their top secret lives of international espionage and covert operations from each other, the Joneses are trying to hide from their busybody neighbors.
We didnt last one week in suburbia! Natalie explodes when their cover is blown by Karen and Jeffs overenthusiastic meddling.
For the Gaffneys, the Joneses are the kick in the pants to their marriage they didnt even know they needed. Consumed by work, family and community obligations, theyve lost their senses of self and their marital passion, content to zone out to TV rather than experiment in the bedroom. Their sexual repression is a continuing, nearly Freudian gag throughout.
Additionally, there are other interesting gender dynamics at play. Both Tim and Jeff are the more sensitive partners, sharing their vulnerabilities with honesty, while the women take to the fierce, ferocious warrior roles like theyve finally been unleashed, physically and sexually.
The draw here is the chemistry of the performers, their personas bouncing around like atoms against each other creating energy Hamm suave and sophisticated, Gadot exotic and strong, Fischer cute and neurotic, while Galifianakis does his dorky, lovable coward routine. The rule here seems: If it aint broke, dont fix it.
Its just that everything around them doesnt work. The editing is awkward, the pacing off jokes dont land, action scenes are illegible. The in-between moments are the funniest bits, rapid-fire riffs or bits of physical comedy, but theres no time to enjoy them. The story takes too long to get to where it intends to: average couple is thrown into a dangerous and action-packed arms deal. But once the film finally starts to fire on all cylinders, its over.
Hamms character is unfortunately underwritten, caught in the no mans land between Don Draper and a goofier comedic character. Galifianakis steals the show as the friendly fussbudget in a performance weve come to expect from him. The enormous potential on screen is tantalizing, which is why the disappointment of failed execution stings.
"KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES" 2 out of 4 stars Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language. Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fischer and Gal Gadot Director: Greg Mottola Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes