Don’t Bother ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ (FILM REVIEW)

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Looking at the series off notes typed out on my phone, I assume that it’s true that I’ve seen Keeping Up with the Joneses. Further investigation leads me to my calendar, where I see that I did, indeed, have a screening of the movie in the last week. I can only assume these things are accurate yet, bafflingly, I have almost no memory of the experience.

That’s hyperbole, of course, for you all literalists about there. But not by much. Keeping Up with the Joneses is about as unmemorable a movie one might see, almost as if watching it destroys the brain cells responsible for archiving your long term memory. It’s a blessing, really, should you ever find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of having to see it. Its existence self-destructs before it ever has the chance to make an impression.

Unfortunate, considering its overall pedigree. On principle alone, Zach Galifianakis and Jon Hamm co-starring in a comedy from Greg Mottola, the director of Superbad, which lampoons both suburban living and the spy genre should be a non-stop romp of wit and comedy. But that’s probably a bit much to ask from the writer of You, Me, and Dupree.

There’s a movie you haven’t thought of in a decade. For good reason. It, too, was remarkably unmemorable. A hack job of the highest order, good for little except filling up early afternoon weekday slots that no one is watching on cable channels. Judging from Keeping Up with the Joneses, it would appear that niche is Michael LeSieur’s wheelhouse, and that’s probably where he’s going to remain.

Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) have a normal, boring life in a normal, boring neighborhood. Jeff works in HR at a technology firm, which is currently developing a secretive new project. The Gaffney’s lives are turned upside when their beautiful and interesting new neighbors, Tim and Natalie Jones (Hamm and Gal Gadot) upset the balance of their neighborhood. Soon, however, the Gaffney’s begin to suspect that the Joneses may not be what they seem, and that they might be attempting to infiltrate Jeff’s company to steal their new project.

Again, on principle this almost sounds delightful. At least, it carries a high potential for delight. With a better script, it probably could’ve been. The chemistry of the four leads is high, and you can tell that each one is trying their hardest to make the most of what they got. Galifianakis does his best to infuse his role with his trademarked blend of heady wit and slapstick, while Hamm brings his blend of underplayed cool, but nothing ever quite works.

In the end, it all comes down to LeSieur’s script, which feels like a by-the-book exercise in paint-by-numbers techniques. Joke after joke bombs; even the ones that land do so without much of an impact and often feels more like laughing at the movie than laughing with. As much as he tries to emphasize the absurd, not even a genius like Galifianakis can ever bring any sort of depth to the overall flatness of the script.

It would be great to see this exact cast and director work together again with a script written by a more capable writer. The movie’s high points, such as they are, come mostly from the casts interactions. Hamm and Galifianakis especially have an undeniable rapport that would benefit literally any other movie. Hell, even a sequel to Keeping Up with the Joneses, written by someone else, would probably work well.

This, however, does not. Keeping Up with the Joneses can barely keep up with itself. It is, in every possible way, a waste. Of time. Of effort. Of talent. Of premise. Of potential. You’d do best not to participate in any more of the waste by saving your time and your money. Hopefully for the cast, they can do like I did and forget this movie ever existed. They’re all capable of so much more and deserve better than they’ve gotten here.

Keeping Up with the Joneses is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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