Keeping Up with the Joneses
Directed by Greg Mottola
Opens October 21
It’s beginning to look like Greg Mottola may have expended his personal filmmaking ambitions with indie debut The Daytrippers (1996) and then 2009’s sublimely sensitive, witty and poignant Adventureland, from his own screenplay which felt like it plumbed Mottola’s personal nostalgia and heartache. Few movies of its kind have captured so many things so well, from the awkward desperation of bookish 19 year-old flirting, to the dead-air mundanity and is-this-it bleakness (combated with sarcasm) of first summer jobs and the secret heart of the aging cool-guy poser, namely Ryan Reynolds. 2013 HBO movie Clear History was amusing, but the crude collision of the Seth Rogen-Edgar Wright universes in Paul and now this warmed-over action comedy hint that he’s content to play the efficient journeyman for hire, as is his right. Of course, he’s only 52, so there may be more Adventurelands to come, but Keeping Up with the Joneses could scarcely be less of a unique vision.
As usual with action comedies, the presence of one genre dilutes the other. It’s becoming rare to encounter an American studio (or branch division like Joneses’ Fox 2000 Pictures) comedy that doesn’t have a body count and one or more comedic exchanges that occur while characters are ducking behind objects to avoid a spray of bullets. Here those characters are Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen (Isla Fisher) Gaffney, whose suburban, undersexed lives (“I DVR’d The Good Wife”) are upended by the arrival of an attractive neighbor couple (Jon Hamm and Gal Godot) who turn out to be spies. These Joneses have targeted the Gaffneys because Jeff’s in HR at a local Atlanta weapons/intelligence/whatever agency and he’s low-level and gullible enough to make a perfect mark for Hamm’s Tim.
The Gaffneys’ deep-seated squareness provides much of the comedy throughout. Jeff’s passion is, predictably, homebrewing (he throws an annual “Junetoberfest” in the backyard), while Karen’s new assignment involves hipping up residential bathrooms with “Brooklyn-style” urinals. The Joneses, on the other hand, are aggressively perfect—she runs a cooking blog and a charity for Sri Lankan orphans while he’s a travel writer with a knack for glassblowing (and, of course, he’s Jon Hamm and Gadot is the current Wonder Woman). Galifianakis is given (or improvises) some funny Zach-like quips (“Is this an extra medium?”) and admires all the “ethnic condiments” at a backroom Chinese restaurant (“It’s soy sauce,” deadpans the naturally funny Hamm), though the latter line precedes an unfortunate, borderline racist scene involving venomous dinner snakes that’s like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Equally unfortunate is the wasting of the gifted Fisher, here forced to prance about in tight lingerie, make out with Gadot and slouch through a leaden screwball scene in which she’s repeatedly conked after being shot with a tranquilizer dart. To be certain, there are some good throwaway lines (“Kinko’s was bananas!” says Matt Walsh, who is usually in movies like this) and an extended violent motorcycle chase is NOT BAD, but it’s safe to say this isn’t one from Mottola’s, or anyone else’s, heart.