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Film Review – Keeping Up With the Joneses

4 min read

Keeping Up With the Joneses stars Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher as Jeff and Karen Gaffney, an ordinary suburban couple who become embroiled in an international arms dealing plot after discovering that their new neighbours are covert CIA agents. An action comedy about everyday schlubs entangled in events way outside their normal range of experience, Keeping Up With the Joneses broadly resembles films like Shawn Levy’s Date Night and Adam McKay’s The Other Guys without being anywhere near as funny or engaging as those two movies.

The Gaffneys are returning home from dropping their sons off at summer camp when a neighbour tells them about the new couple moving into their quiet, suburban cul-de-sac. When Tim (John Hamm) and his wife Natalie (Gal Gadot) come over soon afterwards to introduce themselves and give the Gaffneys a gift highly observant and perhaps somewhat paranoid interior decorator Karen can’t help but feel suspicious of the implausibly attractive and accomplished pair. Jeff, a people person who works in HR for a company that manufactures missiles or microchips for missiles or something related to that, takes an instant liking to Tim and dismisses his wife’s concerns.

While Karen carries out what the movie seems to think are hilariously inept reconnaissance missions that mostly involve following Natalie around a shopping mall Tim and Jeff bond over shared interests like homebrewing and indoor skydiving. Jeff doesn’t find it at all weird that travel writer Tim continually asks him very specific questions about his job. After the Gaffneys discover a listening device in the gift the Joneses gave them Karen convinces Jeff to help her break into their home. The break in sequence is a prime example of how lazy Keeping Up With the Joneses is, the Gaffneys find what they were looking for almost immediately, draining all the tension from the scene, then the audience is treated to a painfully unfunny gag involving Jeff accidentally shooting his wife in the face with a tranquilizer dart.

Keeping Up With the Joneses still

Everything unfolds more or less exactly as you would expect from this point onwards. The Gaffneys and the Joneses are forced to team up against a common, incredibly generic enemy, the initially terrified Gaffneys discover that being involved in dangerous, high level espionage adds some much-needed spice to their marriage and the Joneses learn something about open communication and healthy relationships from their new partners. The issue is less how predictable this chain of events is and more how little fun the film has a long the way. Not only are there no real jokes aside from one solid burn on British dental hygiene, the action scenes are completely flat and Tim and Natalie are never given an opportunity to display their slick spy skills beyond occasionally shooting at masked baddies and standing around on a rooftop in matching black outfits.

It’s actually a little depressing to think that Greg Mottola, the filmmaker behind two of the previous decade’s best comedies in Superbad (2006) and Adventureland (2009), could be responsible for a movie as lame and charmless as Keeping Up With the Joneses. In Mottola’s defence, while his listless direction certainly doesn’t help matters the heaviest portion of the blame belongs to Michael LeSieur’s terrible script, which takes a dumb premise and proceeds to do absolutely nothing with it. LeSieur makes no attempt to develop his characters or tease out the absurdities inherent in a story like this one for comedic effect, and at times it feels as though he wrote the script over the space of a single weekend while only half paying attention to what he was doing.

The actors all appear to be doing their best in underwritten roles. Isla Fisher once again demonstrates her talent for screwball comedy and there’s an interesting physicality to Gal Gadot’s performance. Perhaps because of her combat training the Israeli actress always projects a certain toughness, even in the absurdly short, flouncy dresses her character often wears, and it’s a shame that Keeping Up With the Joneses never gives her some Mission Impossible-style fight choreography to execute. Jon Hamm is completely wasted as the blandly handsome Tim. The Mad Men actor’s appearances in the 2011 film Bridesmaids and various Tina Fey television series prove that there is a genuinely goofy, possibly even unhinged sense of humour underlying his Disney Prince handsomeness but none of that is in evidence here.

Stale, uninspired and largely inoffensive, Keeping Up With the Joneses is neither bad enough to actively avoid nor good enough to actively seek out.