Review: Keeping Up with the Joneses
REVIEW: How does a movie like KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES go so awry? On paper, this should have been a no-brainer. You’ve got a high concept, a hot cast and a great director in Greg Mottola. There’s no reason this shouldn’t have been a light, fun little caper comedy with some great action. Suffice to say, this is not that kind of film, and having paid to see this at a late screening Thursday night, I can tell you the mostly empty theater was not exactly rollicking with laughter.
How did it go wrong? Maybe it’s the tone, with Mottola and company opting for slapstick, something which extends to the cartoonish action scenes. This may not sound out of the question in a comedy spy yarn, but the film totally lacks menace or peril. If this had gone for a heightened, light thriller tone, if could have worked, with Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot perfectly capable of walking that line. Instead they’re saddled with witless dialogue that doesn’t come naturally to them.
Maybe part of the blame goes to Zach Galifianakis, whose act is getting more and more tiresome with each new movie (although his small screen work on “Baskets” is great). While not scrapping the bottom of the barrel quite as much as he did in MASTERMINDS, Galifianakis is once again playing a cowardly man-child, incapable of even a moment where it doesn’t feel like he’s doing shtick. As the nice guy HR rep for a weapons company who’s targeted by the spies, they could have played up the regular Joe, Walter Mitty-esque aspects of the character – had someone else (like Will Ferrell) been cast in the part.
However, Galifianakis should not shoulder the blame entirely, as no one comes off well. Isla Fisher is particularly wasted as his wife, who we’re supposed to believe is mousy (she’s at least as gorgeous as Gadot). She tries to match Galifianakis in the slapstick department, but scenes where she’s following Gadot around or acting high-strung feel recycled from old “I Love Lucy” episodes. Meanwhile, Gadot seems thoroughly uncomfortable trying to be funny, and she struggles with some of the dialogue.
Even Jon Hamm, who’s normally dead-on in his comic timing, is left high-and-dry here. Some of his lines, particularly an exchange with Gadot about Chili’s, are cringe-worthy, because you can tell Hamm’s smart enough to know none of the material is funny. As for the action scenes, they’re clearly staged by people with no eye (or resources) for action, and not the least bit memorable.
Again, KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES is packed with talent, so why is it so bad? This is an especially poor showing for Motolla, whose filmography up to now (which includes ADVENTURELAND, SUPERBAD and PAUL) has been rock-solid. This feels like a sixties Tony Curtis screwball comedy – the kind that shows up on TCM as part of a retrospective and has the host cracking jokes before and after about how bad it is. The only upside is that no one involved will suffer much from its failure, as it seems doomed to a quick death at the box office – something which is probably the best for all involved.