Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher headline the comedy Keeping Up With the Joneses as suburban married couple Jeff and Karen Gaffney. A new couple moves in next door to the Gaffneys the same day they send their kids off to camp, the couple are not what they seem to be at first, and blah, blah, blah hilarity ensues. It’s a plot and set up we’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of times mainly in television sit coms, but often enough in film, too, in movies like Fright Night, The ‘Burbs, Disturbia, and so on. The new titular neighbors, the Joneses, are played by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot. The four actors are the best part of Keeping Up With the Joneses, their raw charm, talent, and comic timing being the only traits that keep this film from being a long and mediocre episode of any given suburban situation comedy on network television between the ’60s and the ’90s.
If the acting talent on display is the movie’s greatest strength, then its script is its greatest weakness. It is predictable to an extreme, the dialogue is mundane with truly funny and surprising punchlines coming only once every while, and there is no real character development nor themes explored at all. In fact, if there is any lesson to be taken from the story it’s that we’re all really the same and we’re all great just the way we are, and even if that weren’t naive it’s a lesson that’s the antithesis of good story since absolutely no tension or growth can be gained from it.
Keeping Up With the Joneses is not a dramatic piece, though, it’s a comedy, so it’s most important job is to make us laugh. It does this better than it creates tension, but it’s still a very rote, predictable sort of comedy. It’s a pleasant, familiar sort of humor that at no point ever becomes subversive or shocking, and while there is nothing particularly wrong with that on its own, it does take much more talent to make comedies in this vein work, and the writer and director just don’t have it at that level.
The action sequences are decent for a comedy of this sort. They are simple and sporadic, which was a good decision as anything overly complex would be terribly out of place and it allows us to focus on the situational comedy rather than on the stunts and special effects. In fact, the action sequences are also the most amusing scenes in the movie as they can rely more on what is going on in the moment than on setups and punchlines. It’s the characters and the actors that bring the most to the comedy in Keeping Up With the Joneses, not the dialogue, and the action sequences allow the dialogue to take a back seat and it’s those sequences that elevate the film from too familiar cliche to actually watchable.
There really isn’t much to say about Keeping Up With the Joneses past you’ve seen it all before, but it’s at least acted well. There was never a suburban spy situation comedy that I remember (though, I welcome any refreshing of my memory), but change out spy for some other atypical middle class couple, and this is one of the better episodes of Bewitched or I Dream of Genie or what not, just longer and told from the perspective of the nosy neighbor.
Keeping Up With the Joneses would be worth seeing someday for free when it comes to Netflix or cable or your streaming service of choice. But, until that day there are plenty of other comedies which are family friendly and do the exact same thing and you don’t need to shell out good money for.
Rating: 4.8 out of 10