Greg Mottola’s Keeping Up with the Joneses is cinematic backwash. The problem isn’t so much that it’s actively bad but that it’s so aggressively mediocre, so needlessly unoriginal. The premise itself — a bored, anal-retentive married couple (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) discovering their new neighbors (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) are super-attractive international spies — feels tired. Even typing out that premise is causing a fit of boredom. Of course, every premise is seemingly exhausted, partly due to the business side of film avoiding risk and the fact that we’ve been doing this for a long, long time. But there’s always the chance a movie — no matter how cliched and threadbare the plot is on paper — can be good. The Joneses, a listless little comedy that’s damn near ethereal in its uselessness, is not that film.
It’s a pity, too, since I’ve liked Mottola’s work in the past. I enjoyed Paul (2011) and like Adventureland (2009) more than I should probably admit. This, however, is simply a bad fit. It becomes apparently very quickly that action isn’t his forte, and the film too often gets bogged down in dull little action scenes that are neither exciting nor interesting. They’re just there at the service of the plot — which isn’t anything to get jazzed about either. The suburban milieu of our protagonists’ lives and their floundering, sexless marriage isn’t very fascinating. The same goes for our super spies and their general unhappiness with their jobs. Despite how harmless this all is, in the end, who cares?
Even with that, the movie might have been passable, except it isn’t able to able to squeeze any humor out of its generic plot. There’s one funny joke about a character being named Bruce Springsteen. That’s it. Nary a chuckle nor chortle to be found. Instead of enjoying the movie, I spent most of the runtime trying to figure out why The Joneses isn’t funny. The best I can come up with is it all just feels like it’s been done before. There’s no energy, nothing exciting happening. Everything is bland. This is rote comedy filmmaking, and it’s a pity.
Like I said, I’ve enjoyed Mottola’s work in the past. The things I really liked about Adventureland so many years ago were the personal touches in both the storyline and the soundtrack. These things do not exist here. This is a bunch of people cashing paychecks, all the more strange since I can’t imagine who thought something this limp and flaccid could ever make money. I’d say history will forget this movie soon enough, but that means it’d have to do something to be noticed in the first place. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language.
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