Keeping Up with the Joneses is a highly mediocre action comedy that does nothing new or interesting or at all memorable. It is a waste of the time and money of everyone involved. It is the sort of thing that everyone will forget about in a week and a half. Director Greg Mottola (Adventureland, Superbad), when he talks about it, probably can’t even remember its name. “Yeah, I have this movie out, it’s called Keeping Up with the… uh……. how’s that phrase go? No, no, I got it. Just gimme a second.” This is the sort of movie this is. Not even bad enough to be of note.
And yet. The more I thought about this movie, the more it bugged me. I’m personally offended that it hasn’t gotten the hell out of my psyche yet. Is this some sort of karmic balance for this week’s excellent The Handmaiden?
Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher star as Jeff and Karen Gaffney, a cookie-cutter suburban couple whose daily life is uprooted when a fancy new couple, Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot), move in across the cul-de-sac. Tim and Natalie are suave and hot and perfect, and they’re also secretly spies who have interest in some sort of something going on at Jeff’s defense company workplace. An unsuspecting Jeff immediately strikes up a bromance with Tim, ignoring the advice of Karen, who suspects their new neighbors aren’t who they say they are. Because hubby’s off having fun while the wife gets to be the suspicious, high-strung killjoy who is at turn criticized for being “paranoid” and, later, praised for her unnaturally fine-tuned sense of “intuition.” OH OK I SEE HOW IT IS.
The only box Karen doesn’t tick on the “hot buzzkill wife of schlubby goofball main character” sitcom bingo card is “gets fewer jokes than her husband,” but that’s just because Keeping Up with the Joneses doesn’t have jokes. This is maybe—maybe—a two-and-a-half chuckle movie. There is the thing where suburban dad Jeff is so naive and so stupid that he borders on racism, as where he jokes with an Indian colleague “Hey, Sanjay? Did I tell you I ate at an Indian restaurant last night? I made an Indian reservation!” This guy’s so ignorant to life outside his cul-de-sac that he doesn’t even know Indian and Native American are two different things! Hi-la-rious!
To be clear, I don’t think this movie is intentionally racist. I think it’s stupid and lazy and it wouldn’t know a joke if it bit it on its khaki-clad ass. It also thinks its audience is stupid, because it expects us to believe that Jon Hamm can pull a suit of out his closet and it will fit Zach Galifianakis. You’d expect there to be a joke there, right? Some sort of “Man A needs to lend Man B clothing even though their body shapes are completely different, LULZ” acknowledgement. But there was nothing. You are a comedy. Where are your jokes?
Keeping Up with the Joneses has three Veep actors (Matt Walsh, Kevin Dunn, Patton Oswalt), and it wastes them all.
There’s not a single character or character dynamic of interest here. It’s all things we’ve seen before: Jeff is the innocent buffoon, Karen the suburban housewife struggling with ennui, Natalie the sexy hardass who sports sky-high heels and calls men “pussy.” The only character who edges towards something potentially novel is Tim, the debonair superspy who secretly longs for a normal life. There’s something in that premise, at least—American James Bond is genuinely interested in a minivan! Safety can be sexy too, you know. Except, as with everything else in this godforsaken movie, Tim’s midlife crisis in reverse is wafted at the screen like a tepid fart, never developed or mined for either character development or comedy. Instead, it’s just “ho-hum, maybe I want to retire and have a family?” Yawn.
Also, the way Tim eventually finds the bad guy is by hacking his way to a deleted e-mail WITH THE PHRASE “DEAD DROP” IN THE SUBJECT LINE. I could not make this up. As with the suit thing, completely ridiculous. As with the suit thing, passes by without a joke or acknowledgment of that fact. Seriously, screenwriter Michael LeSieur, were you half asleep when you wrote this?
Calling this movie “half-baked” gives it too much credit—it is none baked, completely raw and run-through with salmonella. Gal Gadot’s natural charisma manages to shine, at times, through the dense fog of mediocre suck. Hamm’s doesn’t—he’s on autopilot here, as is Galifianakis. And Isla Fisher. Ohhhh, God, Isla Fisher. She gives the most energetic performance here, and God bless her for trying, honestly, but are we seriously trying to pass Isla goddamned Fisher off as the frumpy housewife? Are we? Are we?
“Your leading lady career never quite took off, and shit, you’re like 40* now, so it’s time for you to be ‘the wife’ in shitty comedies. Sorry, Isla Fisher. You had your last fuckable day.”
Honestly, fuck this movie.
*Yes, she is. Yes, really. Yes, I know.