Keeping Up with the Joneses

(2016)  1/2 Pg-13
105 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Greg Mottola. Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm.

/content/films/4988/1.jpgEver wonder what it must be like to be a Hollywood actor attending a red-carpet premiere while knowing—or, worse, discovering—that the movie you sweated to make turned out to be a steaming turd? Well, Zach Galafianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, and Gal Gadot know what it’s like, and the turd has a name: Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Surely these hapless stars looked at the talent signing up, including director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland), and thought, “We can polish the turd by screenwriter Michael LeSieur” (You, Me and Dupree). But only in a well-populated movie theater can one truly appreciate the sound of silence when Gadot’s character boasts she could crack a walnut with her vagina. And that, my friends, is the funniest joke in the picture.

Admittedly, those Jonesing to see Gadot in her underwear will get their wish (though it’ll cost them about $3 a minute). Everyone else unfortunate enough to wander into this unfortunate movie will have to suffer a mirthless spy fantasy with no such satisfaction. Galifianakis plays Jeff Gaffney, who lives on a suburban cul-de-sac with his wife Karen (Fisher) and two kids. Jeff works as an HR manager at the local aerospace and defense firm, making him an attractive sap—or is it asset?—to spies going by the names of Tim and Natalie Jones. Hijinks ensue.

From the musty premise, one can see every joke coming right up Maple Circle. Experienced humor artistes get set adrift, comic timing goes out the window, and 101 minutes feel like 101 episodes of Chuck, except without the entertainment value. (For the record, Chuck only filmed 91 episodes, a bit of trivia that’s also more entertaining than Keeping Up with the Joneses.)

With no seeming clue where to go, or even what a joke is, Joneses plays out a played-out spy scenario by marking time with tired tropes (the suburban marrieds in a sexual slump) and pointless visual distractions (Jeff and Tim go indoor sky diving!). The story lacks romance and intrigue, and it basically musters one action sequence, a thrill-less shoot-‘em-up vehicular chase.

Joneses earned a delay from early April to late October, which is evident from the terrible wig slapped on Jon Hamm for the reshoot of a cobra-themed-restaurant scene. Reshoots didn’t help (this is, after all, a film that dusts off the accidental-snake-bite scene and the accidental-sleep-dart scene). Comedy cannot exist in a vacuum. Keeping Up with the Joneses totally wastes the time of a handful of very funny actors, a hard-working crew, and everyone else unfortunate enough to wander into this unfortunate, unpleasant, unfunny movie.

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