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Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)

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Score: 2/10

Genre: Action Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: October 21st, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Greg Mottola Actors: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Jon Hamm, Patton Oswalt, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Ming Zhao, Jona Xiao, Kevin Dunn

J

eff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) live a serenely routine suburban lifestyle on idyllic Maple Circle. But all that changes when overly-picturesque new neighbors Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot) move into the peaceful cul-de-sac and quickly ingratiate themselves with the community, much to the suspicion of Karen. As Jeff finds Tim probing into his job at aerospace company MBI, and Karen begins covertly following Natalie around, the couple soon discovers that the Joneses aren’t who they appear to be – resulting in the incredulous duo becoming unwittingly wrapped up in a harrowing adventure full of government spies, international arms dealers, and lingerie shopping.

Like Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler, Zach Galifianakis is a very singular comedian with a specific brand of humor. Although the premise for “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is a new environment, the gags are still very much the same as before, taking advantage of slapstick elements, clumsiness, timidity, irrational panic, and difficulty with eloquence. Here, he doesn’t possess an exaggerated accent or a kooky gait or an unstylish dress code, but he’s unable to play a character too far removed from the typical persona he’s adopted for virtually all of his theatrical appearances. It’s definitely toned down in this latest comedy adventure, but that actually hurts the effect; Galifianakis without all his usual larger-than-life peculiarities is just not as much fun.

With this neutered version of a popularly crazy character comes a comparably dull plot. The mundane jobs, the boring social lives, and the nonexistent sex are each given numerous minutes to establish workaday routines that seem tremendously bland compared to the beauty, accomplishments, spontaneity, and visible affections of the next-door neighbors (an idea that could have turned down the path of horror just as easily as comedy). But this notion is already completely understandable; it doesn’t require 30 minutes to convey a realistic sense of enviousness and suburban fatigue. This would have been forgivable if there were pockets of hilarity interspersed in this establishment, but the setup is just as run-of-the-mill as the Gaffneys. Verbal witticisms like “Never judge a woman by her spice rack” fail to muster the laughs necessary for a successful introduction.

“I may not need to moisturize, but I still have feelings,” insists Natalie. The one-liner riffs keep rolling out throughout the entire picture, but with the same tepidness as the start. To change things up, “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is also an actioner, though these sequences are so unexciting and infrequent that it’s difficult to classify it as an action comedy; rather, it’s a comedy with a few moments of gun-blazing furor. But because of its rooting in a make-believe arena of false physics, exaggerated (or innocuous) injuries, and convenient stalling when things get tough, there is no suspense or concern with potential dangers (in kind, the bonding/friendship themes are also unconvincing, as they don’t fit in the world of espionage). Plus, it takes nearly an hour before the first shootout, which finally confirms that the Joneses are, in fact, superspies from some unnamed agency (itself hardly a spoiler, since that’s the selling point of the trailers and the posters). It’s so slow to get to that scene that most audiences will have long since given up, wearied by the text/phone jokes and the repetition of references to pooping. The actors are all watchable, even if the script is saddeningly stale, but the greatest offense is the refusal to push any boundaries. It’s romanticized, comedic spy stuff with no aspirations for the hilarity (or even raunchiness) of its brethren, including the mild yet memorable endeavors of “Get Smart,” “Date Night,” “Johnny English,” and “Central Intelligence.”

– The Massie Twins

 



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