Keeping Up With the Joneses is one of those movies where you just have to wonder what the hell happened. The movie has a fairly good cast, between Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot in lead roles, and even has Greg Mottola of Superbad, Adventureland and Paul fame in the directors’ chair. How could that possibly go wrong? I suppose it was the point when 20th Century Fox bought a script written by the guy that wrote You. Me and Dupree, that infamously terrible Owen Wilson comedy from 2006.
You can learn everything about Keeping Up With the Joneses from its very by-the-numbers, aggressively boilerplate trailer, in a rare example of complete movie marketing transparency. This is a comedy that is proudly middling, unapologetically milquetoast, and very, very forgettable. This is a movie that inconceivably squanders its very promising premise, between frequent batches of very unfunny jokes, plus a nagging sense that the movie’s themes about suburban living and the mundanity of adult life are never truly explored, and often resolved with half-hearted cop-outs, rather than any true inspiration. On the bright side though, I suppose Keeping Up with the Joneses is slightly better than You, Me and Dupree. Progress?
Keeping Up with the Joneses stars Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher as dull suburban couple, Jeff and Karen Gaffney. Jeff and Karen are in quite a sizable rut, and find that their dull suburban lifestyle is wearing on their zest for life. Compounding this issue are the seemingly perfect new neighbours that just moved in immediately after the unseen Gaffney kids go to Summer camp, Tim and Natalie Jones, played by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot. The Joneses are over-qualified, good at everything, and seem to have the perfect marriage. Oh, and later on, it comes out that they’re spies. That’s not a spoiler. That’s made obvious right from the beginning to anyone who is paying attention.
If you think you know the progression of these character arcs from a mile away, you’re absolutely right. Beyond a surprising antagonist that’s revealed at the end, the character arcs in Keeping Up with the Joneses throw no curveballs whatsoever. Every character moment, every character gag, anything related to these personalities is very tired and very stale. There is practically nothing to say about them. The personalities are very one-note, with Tim and Natalie barely having any personality at all to speak of, beyond being outwardly perfect people that are inwardly not so perfect (shock of shocks), while Jeff is the typical Zach Galifianakis character of an oblivious, well-meaning simpleton, and Isla Fisher plays the predictable bored housewife character that these kinds of comedies have portrayed in a million different forms already.
Even when the characters are challenged later in the movie, it never feels like Keeping Up with the Joneses truly gets its cast off the ground. This movie is an enormous waste of its great lead actors, who really try their best to squeeze anything out of this movie’s lousy script, but they only sporadically succeed. Every so often, Galifianakis or Fisher gets a chuckle, but it’s also true that several of their better punchlines were given away in the movie’s trailer. Everything else is very unremarkable, and by the time we get to the semi-interesting villainous force at the end, it’s just too little, too late.
Keeping Up with the Joneses feels like a movie made for the same boring suburban folks that it’s claiming to poke fun at. The movie even tries to make a half-baked u-turn in the ending portions by glorifying the boredom of suburbia, after it begins its incredibly bland plot by highlighting how unfulfilling a simple suburban life is. Then a confused, detached epilogue sequence just muddies these waters even further. This movie has no idea what it’s truly trying to say in the end, and it leads to a storyline with no bite, and even less insight.
Again, every so often, the movie will manage a chuckle, but it almost never goes where most audiences who have seen even a handful of action-comedies won’t expect it to go. The secret of the Joneses is telegraphed incredibly early on, even putting aside the trailer (which strangely made the Joneses look like the movie’s villains for whatever reason), and by the time the action finally gets going in the second half, it’s really difficult to care, because there just isn’t anything in the story to take you off guard. When you can predict literally every story turn three moves ahead, what’s even the point of seeing Keeping Up with the Joneses? The mere trailer will already allow you to put the entire movie’s story progression together!
The biggest question surrounding this extensively forgettable action-comedy is how it managed to rope Greg Mottola into directing duties! Mottola is a very talented comedy director! Why is he slumming it with Keeping Up with the Joneses? Maybe Mottola liked the premise, or maybe he needed to pay off a new car, but either way, his direction is probably one of the only semi-noteworthy elements of this movie.
Obviously, even Greg Mottola can’t do too much with a script this weak and unfunny, but he does give a decent effort to add some flavour to a very boilerplate comedy production. Mottola even helms a fairly competent action scene towards the end of the movie’s second act, which, again, is nothing that you wouldn’t have seen before in other action-comedies, but at least it’s well-presented and kind of exciting, if not anything new. It’s the point where Keeping Up with the Joneses actually does start to elevate its premise a little bit. Then it’s over, and then you’re left with an onslaught of more mostly unfunny jokes for the last 20-minute stretch or so. I don’t blame Mottola for this movie, since he’s actually trying to do a decent job with what he has, but I really hope his paycheque from Fox was worth it, so he can quickly move on to a better project.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is a pointless, unnecessary action-comedy that squanders its premise, its strong lead cast, and its handful of decent jokes. This movie tanked at the box office too, even by the standards of an October comedy, and I can’t say that I’m the least bit surprised. It doesn’t have any real selling point, beyond the lead actors that don’t have anything to work with. There are so many other suburban comedies and action-comedies to this same tune that it’s easy to wonder why this movie even exists at all.
If you’re heinously bored and want an action-comedy one night, any action-comedy, Keeping Up with the Joneses might work as a quick digital rental for home viewing, but it’s definitely not worth the trip to the theatre. It’s hard to even call it another disappointment to go with October’s many disappointing movies this year as well, since it seems like even Fox doesn’t care that much about selling it. Even as an expected let-down, Keeping Up with the Joneses is still a let-down, and frankly, there’s barely anything to examine beyond the same old rehashed humour and tired story turns. Needless to say, your box office bucks are better spent elsewhere.
- Lead cast is semi-appealing
- The movie's ultimate villain is a bit entertaining
- The one major action scene is decent
- Jokes are almost entirely unfunny and predictable
- Story turns are universally rehashed and also predictable
- Personalities have no depth or novelty
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