(An edited version of this review first appeared in the ABQ Free Press, and can be viewed here.)
Comedy is subjective, the notion of creating a successful entry in the genre as much of a gamble as anything in Hollywood. What directors and writers and producers perceive as funny could go through one ear and out the other of moviegoers.
You can come to a consensus about the quality of an actor’s performance, sure, or even how strongly a score impacts a movie’s tone. But you’ll never be able to convince a die-hard “Ace Ventura” fan that Will Ferrell is a funnier actor than Jim Carrey, or find widespread agreement that “Superbad” offers more laughs than “40-Year-Old Virgin.”
It’s inevitable, then, that some will think “Keeping Up With The Joneses,” in all its lazy and (to this critic) unfunny glory is the greatest comedy ever created, ensuring that directors in the future know that utilizing everything in the cliché playbook guarantees, at the very least, some filled seats in the theater.
Nevermind comparing “Keeping Up With The Joneses” to, say, the works of Mel Brooks, who offered comedy that is simultaneously cutting social commentary while also remembering that there’s more to a film than “Joneses” provides.
Logic and emotion, for example. Director Greg Mottle (Adventureland, Superbad) could have utilized some of that. Really, any bit of substance to create something memorable out of a film that anyone can predict the major plot points to as they settle into their seats.
The chronic issue with these kinds of films is that – because people are going to be okay with choosing to pay $10 for a ticket (I could think of several things to better spend $10 on) to this – they’re going to keep getting made.
And it’s easy to understand why. People like the superficial comedy, the kind of jokes that mean nothing beyond the on-screen moment in which they happen. What’s the fun anyway in thinking too hard about why something is funny or not? Hell, even cringeworthy quips about the pros and cons of the “hyena” sex position, we’ll take that over jokes of substance that speak to contemporary race relations, for instance. Politics be damned.
That’s what makes it so hard for this critic and, I’m sure, for others who aren’t easily fooled by Hollywood’s recycled moneymaking tactics. Movies like “Keeping Up With The Joneses” believe they are so smug in the way that they can (attempt to) create what passes as humor out of the absence of logic.
I’ll give this to “Joneses”: the acting is tolerable. A couple notches above tolerable, actually; Zach Galifianakis (Th Hangover, BirdMan) makes the best of what he’s given as we can expect him to; Jon Hamm’s (Mad Men, The Town) nuanced performance as a smooth but troubled spy is as enticing as it is seductive; Isla Fisher’s (Now You See Me, Wedding Crashers) bits are memorable for someone who hasn’t done much in the realm of comedy.
They work with what they have. Unfortunately, what they have isn’t very much, but I guess actors just need to make a paycheck every once in a while.
You’ve seen this movie before, trust me. You’ve probably seen it in shortened SNL skit form, or otherwise read one of countless novels that utilize a similar premise. So should you see this film?
Let me put it this way: if just the thought of pairing up the charismatic and smooth Hamm with his contrast in Galifianakis for an action comedy flick makes you chuckle… buy a ticket, for God’s sake, you’ll have a riot.
For those that need a movie to justify that pairing and what they’re truly capable of…rest assured, this isn’t it.
“Keeping Up With The Joneses” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language
Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot
Directed by Greg Mottola