Action comedies are not easy. For every Rush Hour there’s a Rush Hour 3 and for every Men in Black, there are two sequels. And so on. Usually the secret is a combination of fun action in a movie that’s entertaining and mostly a comedy with the action thrown in. Sometimes you toss in a bit of pathos or whatnot, but that’s rarely as effective as the laughter. There are plenty of bad ones, a bunch of good ones, a few great ones, and still more that are average.
Keeping Up With the Joneses is that sort of average, coming from director Greg Mottola of mixed success of his own. The movie takes place in an average suburb where everyone works for the local huge defense contractor. Zach Galifianakis plays Jeff Gaffney, an HR manager at the corporation and a bit of a punching bag, while Isla Fisher plays his wife Karen. Karen has a kooky side business of interior decorating, which is used for a few gags and is otherwise pointless. Naturally, the difference of attractiveness between the two is astronomical, but both are funny actors.
When the kids are off to camp and conveniently off screen for the entire movie, two new neighbors move in; Tim and Natalie Jones, played by highly attractive actors Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot. Jon Hamm is known for a few comedic roles, and this is a first “big” comedic role for the new Wonder Woman. Tim and Natalie are world travelers and suspiciously too great at everything. So Karen is suspicious, while guileless, gullible Jeff is not.
The “twist” that the Joneses are spies of some sort is spoiled by the trailers and is also the conceit of the movie, so I don’t mind spoiling it. The precise nature of their spy tomfoolery is very clichéd and formulaic. I really think that the movie is decent enough at the action pieces, even if they aren’t that well shot, but a lot of the comedy works well. Sure, a lot of the jokes are obvious, but there were some unexpected turns taken here and there.
This is a very forgettable movie in a lot of ways, but I don’t think it’s a bad movie. Jon Hamm is really the perfect guy to play an action hero in a comedy without having to do any real stunts. And attractiveness disparity aside, Isla Fisher and Zach Galifianakis have great comedic chemistry, even if they have absolutely zero romantic or sexual chemistry. Any of the attempts for realness or honest sincerity fall flat, like the “I don’t know if this line of work is right for me, oh wait the movie’s still going and I don’t care anymore about that brief epiphany back to it” cliché.
Isla Fisher wrings out laughs from some physical comedy that would fall very flat for other actors, and Galifianakis has a character I don’t want to throw out a window. Gal Gadot works a bit better at the action beats than the comedic ones, but there’s potential there for something else. The movie zips along pretty well, and mixes ironic deconstruction spy jokes with standard ones. It’s par for the course.
So why is it forgettable? The story, for one. It’s all very simplistic, and despite a few fun last minute cameos, the “twists” are not really unexpected. It doesn’t bother me by screwing with something good like Men in Black 2 or tire me like any one of hundreds of bad spoof or remake movies. I walked out feeling happy enough, and not like I wasted my time. Yet in a year, will anyone remember this? Probably not, but I know I won’t have any hate for it. Anyone that hates this movie probably just hasn’t seen many action comedies.
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