A wise person once claimed “comparison is the thief of joy” — wise words to keep in mind when impossibly perfect, gorgeous, worldly new neighbors move into the cul-de-sac, as they do in the action-comedy “Keeping Up with the Joneses.” But those Joneses (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) aren’t exactly what they seem, and have more than a few surprises up their tailored sleeves.
But the biggest surprise is the first credit that pops to the screen at the end of the film: “Directed by Greg Mottola.” For an action-comedy this shoddily schlocky, one doesn’t expect to see the name of the director who helmed the comedy classic “Superbad” and the nuanced summer dramedy “Adventureland.”
That’s not to say that the film is necessarily without its merits, but it’s wildly uneven, riding on a half-baked script by Michael LaSieur and the energetic efforts of star Zach Galifiankis. In concept, it’s all there: Galifianakis as fuddy-duddy suburban dad Jeff Gaffney, the delightfully unhinged Isla Fischer as his wife, Karen; Hamm and wonder woman Gadot as their new super-sexy spy neighbors, Tim and Natalie. But there’s something not quite right; this one needed more time in the oven.
It’s a twist on the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” concept, but instead of hiding their top secret lives of international espionage and covert operations from each other, the Joneses are trying to hide from their busybody neighbors. “We didn’t last one week in suburbia!” Natalie explodes when their cover is blown by Karen and Jeff’s overenthusiastic meddling.
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For the Gaffneys, the Joneses are the kick in the pants to their marriage they didn’t even know they needed. Consumed by work, family and community obligations, they’ve lost their senses of self and their marital passion, content to zone out to TV. Their sexual repression is an ongoing, nearly Freudian gag throughout.
Additionally, there are other interesting gender dynamics at play. Both Tim and Jeff are the more sensitive partners, sharing their vulnerabilities with honesty, while the women take to the fierce, ferocious warrior roles like they’ve finally been unleashed, physically and sexually.
The draw here is the chemistry of the performers, their personas bouncing around like atoms against each other creating energy — Hamm suave and sophisticated, Gadot exotic and strong, Fischer cute and neurotic, while Galifianakis does his dorky, lovable coward routine. The rule here seems: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
It’s just that everything around them doesn’t work. The editing is awkward, the pacing off, the jokes don’t land. The in-between moments are the funniest bits, rapid-fire riffs or bits of physical comedy, but there’s no time to enjoy them.
Hamm’s character is unfortunately underwritten, caught in the no man’s land between Don Draper and a goofier comedic character. Galifianakis steals the show as the friendly fussbudget in a performance we’ve come to expect from him.
Keeping Up with the Joneses
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language. Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fischer, Gal Gadot. Director: Greg Mottola. Running time: 101 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.