Keeping Up with the Joneses (20th Century Fox, PG-13)

The humor and the cast alone are more than enough to warrant a recommendation.

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Keeping Up with the Joneses is a surprisingly entertaining take on domestic life and espionage humor that succeeds primarily on the strengths of its four leads. If only its conventional production did not feel so familiar.

Keeping Up with the Joneses follows suburban couple Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher). They live an unexciting and ordinary public and personal life. Jeff works for human resources at an aerospace company and Karen is an interior designer. Even while their two sons are away, they cannot spice up their life. That all changes with the arrival of their new neighbors: Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot). At first, they seem like ordinary, nice people with suspicious skills. Despite bonding with them, Jeff and Karen don’t trust the Joneses and one day enter their house while they’re away. While there, they find equipment suitable for super spies and that the targets may have something to do with Jeff’s work. They soon become embroiled in a game of espionage they are not prepared for.

The “spies upheave domestic life” premise is almost a subgenre of comedy unto itself. Most of the time, it is not played well because the espionage is unexciting and the comedy is not there. The espionage elements are not the most original here (pen-that-shoots-a-dart type of gadgetry is used). That being said, Keeping Up with the Joneses is able to play off of its suburban setting in an effective way. Director Greg Mottola, whose previous films include Superbad, Paul, and Adventureland, is able to get the most out of looking into how a suburban couple adapts to a more lavish life.

Michael LeSieur’s script provides some good zingers. Really, though, the film’s strength is not really in the words being said but in how the actors deliver them. Galifianakis stands out in particular because he can deliver absurd lines with an absurd persona yet still find humanity in a lot of the quieter moments. He finds a nice rapport with Fisher, who’s the smarter one of the two but gets her own glorious moments to be crazy. Hamm and Gadot provide the more stoic center of the film given the secretive nature of their characters, but they prove effective just off their chemistry. In fact, the four leads come together as a good cohesive whole where the different dynamics of the two couple create some insanely funny moments.

The actors and the humor can help, for the most part, distract from the fact that the film feels very conventional in terms of production. The cinematography by Andrew Dunn is adequate if a little uninspired. The same can be said for the score by Jake Monaco, which puts in elements of a James Bond-esque soundtrack. It’s music that’s common for a film like this. Another problem is the fact that there is very little espionage happening: more shooting and less sneaking. The action sequences are not particularly memorable either.

The film has its lulls and is too conventional for its own good. I say that because the humor as a whole works and the performances are top notch. With a slicker makeover, Keeping Up with the Joneses could have helped redefine this domestic spy premise and given it new life. Instead, it misses out on that because the production feels so standard and ends up feeling like a better version of stuff we’ve seen before. The humor and the cast alone are still more than enough to warrant a recommendation. | Bill Loellke

 

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