KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Greg Mottola

Stars: Zach Galiafanakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Patton Oswalt, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Kevin Dunn, Michael Liu.
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Not to be confused with the 2009 comedy The Joneses, which featured David Duchovny and Demi Moore as a couple fixated on the lavish lifestyle of their neighbours,  Keeping Up With The Joneses is a high concept but formulaic action comedy about spies living in a quiet suburban neighbourhood. The action comedy follows in the footsteps of such films as 2010’s The Spy Next Door, which starred Jackie Chan; Mr And Mrs Smith, which for better or worse brought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together; and Killers, which starred Ashton Kutcher and Kathryn Heigl.
Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galiafanakis) and his wife Karen (Isla Fisher) live in a quite cul de sac in a picturesque suburb of Atlanta. He is a human resources manager for BMI, a giant aerospace engineering company involved in all sorts of technology and cutting edge research projects, while Karen is restarting her business as an interior designer by designing toilets for her neighbours. Their two sons are away at summer camp and they have the house to themselves for the first time in their marriage. Their lives are fairly dull and their marriage is in a bit of a rut, but then some unexpected excitement comes their way with the arrival of new neighbours across the street.
Tim Jones (Jon Hamm) is a macho travel writer who has visited some exotic locales and has plenty of interesting stories to tell, and his statuesque wife Natalie (Gal Gadot) is an accomplished cook who runs her own blog and does lots of charity work. They are a good looking, sophisticated and accomplished couple, but Karen begins to suspects that they are too good to be true. What secrets are they hiding?
Jeff and Tim bond, but Tim seems a little too interested in Jeff’s job and his coworkers. Meanwhile Karen begins to follow Natalie around to find out what she is up to. Her fears are realised when they discover that the Joneses are actually elite undercover spies who have been sent to try and find out who has been accessing Jeff’s computer at work and is trying to sell secrets to a sinister arms dealer known only as The Scorpion. Soon the Gaffney’s quiet life is turned upside down as they finding themselves dodging bullets and assassins.
This is the first action comedy for director Greg Mottola, who is better known for his comedies and has made films like Superbad and Adventureland. This is his first film since 2011’s science fiction comedy Paul. Mottola handles the car chase and shootouts well and manages to sustain the energy and pace throughout. He eschews CGI effects and green screen, which gives the action a more realistic and gritty feel. There is also some physical, slapstick comedy that Mottola handles effectively.
However there are a couple of flat spots and a couple of scenes that come across as awkward and where the humour seems forced. The car chase itself also seems a little too long. But there are a couple of great individual moments, including Tim and Jeff visiting a snake bar and Karen and Natalie confronting each other in a department changing room while dressed in their underwear.
Written by Michael LeSieur (You, Me And Dupree, etc) Keeping Up With The Joneses is fairly formulaic stuff. And while it hardly offers up much that is particularly fresh or original it delivers enough action and laughs to entertain and pass the time. That the film works at all is mainly due to the casting choices.
Galiafanakis has become a little irritating lately with his immature manchild shtick, but here he plays a more rounded character who is still flawed and a little bumbling, but generally likeable. His performance is a little more restrained with less of the shrill buffoonery that we have come to expect. He is much better here than in the recent misfire that was Masterminds. He and Fisher develop a great dynamic as the boring suburban couple out of their depth when thrust into the world of international espionage. Fisher, in her biggest role for three years, has great comic timing as the increasingly neurotic Natalie, whose suspicions drive the plot forward.
Hamm and Gadot develop a great chemistry as the cool but deadly spies and they click much more convincingly than Galiafanakis and Fisher. Tim seems to be in the midst of a mid-career crisis, and has grown sick of the lies and constant deception, which brings a bit of depth to the character as he explores his insecurities. The chiseled Hamm breaks away from the dapper image he has portrayed in the tv series Mad Men, and demonstrates a great flair for action, and he brings a bit of grit and ruthlessness to his role, as well as a hint of vulnerability. He seems to treat his role here almost as if it is an audition for the role of James Bond. The statuesque Gadot (soon to be seen as DC comics’ new Wonder Woman) looks great on screen and she handles the action scenes well, but seems a little less confident and comfortable with the demands of comedy.

★★★

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