We gave it a C
Director Greg Mottola has proven that he knows how to transform a tired comedy cliché into something special, whether that’s tackling the retro coming-of-age dramedy in Adventureland or the raunchy high school sex farce in Superbad. His latest effort, however, the suburban spy comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses, feels less like a fresh take and more like a unnecessary retread of every average-couple-gets-swept-up-into-a-dangerous-situation story ever.
Between Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, and Gal Gadot, Keeping Up with the Joneses has a stacked cast, but thanks to a tepid script from Michael LeSieur (You, Me and Dupree), they don’t actually get that much to do. Galifianakis and Fisher star as the classic cul-de-sac couple Jeff and Karen Gaffney—he works in HR at an aerospace company, she’s an interior decorator—who send their two sons away to summer camp, content to have the house to themselves for a few weeks. Their bland suburban lives take a turn for the dangerous, however, when their new neighbors move in. Tim and Natalie Jones (Hamm and Gadot) are an impossibly stylish, talented, and good-looking couple, and it doesn’t take Jeff and Karen long to detect a distinctly 007-ish air around them.
Casting Hamm and Gadot—a.k.a. Don Draper and Wonder Woman—only emphasizes just how much better off the two would be in a film that put their talents to use. Hamm in particular can play both the suave, square-jawed action hero and the goofy comedy foil; Keeping Up with the Joneses doesn’t really let him do either. Galifianakis also feels especially out of place as the straight-laced and slightly neurotic Jeff, and even when the mild-mannered HR manager is at his most manic or goofy, Galifianakis still feels like he’s holding back.
Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t bad, just forgettable—and a bit of a missed opportunity. There are more than a few laugh-out-loud lines, but they’re undercut by an overly sappy message about unlikely friendships. What could’ve been a clever or innovative spy caper instead feels about as exciting as a subdivision barbecue: not a bad time, per se, but wouldn’t you rather be hanging out with James Bond? C