The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Keeping Up with the Joneses

Keeping Up with the Joneses (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Keeping Up with the Joneses (PG-13)

A suburban couple learns their new neighbors are not what they seem in Keeping Up with the Joneses, a weak-sauce comedy.
Or actually, Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot) are exactly what they seem to Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) the first time she sees them, namely, way too perfect for suburbia. With their international jobs and hobbies and their airbrushed good looks, she’s certain something’s up with them, a hunch underlined by what she sees as strange behavior from Tim. He knows the name of Karen’s husband, Jeff’s (Zach Galifianakis), workplace, some kind of defense industry tech thing, without having to be told and she catches him poking around Jeff’s den — allegedly having gotten lost on the way to the bathroom. Karen doesn’t think Natalie’s perfect aim at darts and catwalk- ready wardrobe particularly fit with the “cooking blog” resume she gives either.
And if Jeff weren’t so desperate for a new buddy, he might also wonder why Tim is so curious about the personal lives of Jeff’s co-workers.
Of course, if Jeff had any sense at all, he probably wouldn’t let any random person at his super-secure office (where most employees have no internet access) use his computer. As an HR guy, Jeff has a computer with internet access, a fact that gets him lots of visitors but little respect because, as one coworker explains, his internet proves his job isn’t sensitive or terribly important. Perhaps this is why Jeff wants to hang on to Tim’s friendship and keeps insisting that Karen’s belief in the couple’s shadiness is actually just her deflecting her anxiety and loneliness at the absence of their two young sons, who have gone to summer camp for a few weeks. He keeps insisting this right up until he’s proven wrong, and then he’s in a state of squealing terror.
Maybe you think that’s a spoiler, the fact that the Joneses are actually people with a secret. “Eh” is my feeling on that. Even if you’d never seen the trailers, which totally give this plot detail away, the movie also tells the audience that the Joneses aren’t on the up-and-up pretty quickly. I’m not saying it would have been better if we didn’t know — in fact, I think it might have been tiresome to watch Karen goofily Nancy-Drew the mystery — but the lack of a question in the plot leaves the comedy to do all the heavy lifting in this movie and the comedy here is definitely not strong enough to make that work. (There is one nice little surprise, casting-wise, late in the movie, that I won’t spoil and it leads to some of the movie’s better comedic moments.)
The clash of unsexy suburban coupledom versus glamorous spy life is pretty much the one joke this movie keeps telling over and over. It is a very sitcom approach in the old-school sense of the mediocre broadcast network kind of sitcom that existed back before “comedy” came to mean basically anything that wasn’t an NCIS offshoot. This kind of movie, this kind of skewering of suburbia plus adventure, can work, but it needs to be dumber, smarter or weirder (think Bad Moms or Neighbors) or some combination of the three. Also, it’s weird that this movie would be a PG-13-rated film — are teenagers lining up to see Jon Hamm? I’m not usually one to say “what this movie needs is some hilarious violence” but an R rating (and the kind of comedy that could have come with it) would seem more fitting with the subject matter and the potential audience.
Here, most of the scenes are built around one of four duos: Tim and Natalie, who are the least interesting pair of people; Jeff and Karen, who are a step up on the zany chart; Tim and Jeff, where all of the comedy is really about the difference between the cool Tim and the dorky Jeff, and Karen and Natalie, whose scenes together probably have the most comic potential even though there aren’t many of them. Though the movie uses the two characters basically as an excuse to have two women in lingerie share a scene, the characters actually have a few brief but interesting conversations that show how the movie could have pushed the comedy to some weirder or smarter place.
Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t a terrible idea for a comedy — or even all that terribly executed — but it needs more than just four characters with comedy chops (I’ll give Gadot the benefit of the doubt) to make it rise above some very middling jokiness and be the fun dumb comedy I think it could have been. C

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language. Directed by Greg Mottola and written by Michael LeSieur, Keeping Up with the Joneses is an hour and 45 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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