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biast | by maryann johanson

Keeping Up with the Joneses movie review: no, let them go

Keeping Up with the Joneses red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Take True Lies and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Remove wit, sexy charm, and satire on marriage. This is a recipe for a movie anyone wants to see?tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Mash together True Lies and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Remove all the wit and all the sexy charm. Get rid of the action thrills. Eliminate all satirical metaphoric commentary on marriage and suburban living. And then have your head examined: Who on Earth could possibly think this was the recipe for a movie that anyone would want to see? And yet here we have Keeping Up with the Joneses, which appears to have been created to precisely this plan.

Nothing is funny here. Nothing. It’s so perfectly unfunny that it almost seems deliberate.
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Limp and lifelesstweet, Joneses gives us Tim (Jon Hamm: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, Minions) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Triple 9), the sleek new couple in an upscale Atlanta cul-de-sac, who are supposed to be incredibly competent undercover spies even though they are absolutely terrible at maintaining a low profile, and — worse — in ways that aren’t even funny. (Nothing is funny here. Nothing. It’s so perfectly unfunny that it almost seems deliberate, but why would any filmmaker do such a thing? Is it like a Producers-style scam, deliberately tanking a movie as a tax writeoff?tweet) The movie pretends like we’re not supposed to know that they’re spies, presents them as just the impossibly gorgeous and accomplished and well-traveled newcomers, but there’s literally nothing else going on in the movie at this point to distract us: we’re just waiting for the “surprise” reveal that they really are spies.

“They’re saying something about how this movie will be a boost for our careers. But that can’t be right: that’s much funnier than anything in the script.”

“They’re saying something about how this movie will be a boost for our careers. But that can’t be right: that’s much funnier than anything in the script.”tweet

Fortunately, in what can only be deemed a blessing, Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher: The Brothers Grimsby, Life of Crime) across the street is on to them instantly, so there isn’t too long to wait. Why she should be suspicious of them isn’t clear. In a funnier (ie: funny at all) movie, it might have been because she’s aware that her husband, Jeff (Zach Galifianakis: Birdman, Muppets Most Wanted), is obviously a massive security risk: a touchy-feely HR staffer at a defense contractor, he “kindly” allows other employees who are banned from using the Internet at work to play with his connected computer as much as they like. But in fact, the entire neighborhood the “Joneses” have just moved into work for the same defense contractor, and nobody appears to realize that they are all obvious targets for intelligence snoops. The movie doesn’t seem to recognize the comedic potential in idiotic and inept defense-contractor employees, or even just the interpersonal politics of such a workplace. (It touches on the latter, only to instantly shy away, and anyway, again, it has no idea how to be funny about it.) Office Space with espionage? That could be funny!

Looks like a cheap made-for-cable domestic dramedy, except when it looks like a commercial for the luxury car brand that clearly paid a premium to be showcased well.
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But already I have thought more about the basic scenario and execution of this movie than its creators didtweet. The only moments in which director Greg Mottola (Paul, Adventureland) demonstrates any interest in ensuring that his movie does not look like a cheap made-for-cable domestic dramedy is when he wants it to look like a commercial for the luxury car brand that clearly paid a premium to be showcased well. Screenwriter Michael LeSieur (You, Me and Dupree) made sure to include — among all the completely obvious “twists” and humiliation “humor” — utterly gratuitous scenes in which both Gadot and Fisher are required to be clad in lingerie. (Does Hamm get down to his skivvies? Of course not.) So we know where Keeping Up with the Joneses’ priorities lie. And it is most definitely not with telling a fun and funny story.


red light 1.5 stars

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Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016) | directed by Greg Mottola
US/Can release: Oct 21 2016
UK/Ire release: Oct 21 2016

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language
BBFC: rated 12A (infrequent strong language, moderate violence, sex references)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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