Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher are two performers that made themselves known to the moviegoing masses with some outlandish roles where they got to let their freak flags fly in The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, respectively. So it’s a bit disconcerting to see them playing the typical dull suburban married couple in Keeping Up with the Joneses. Typical is a word that can be applied to a lot of what we see here. The film isn’t bad. It’s just ordinary. The leads aren’t bad either. They’re just more boring than we’re used to and a by the numbers screenplay doesn’t help them any.
The aforementioned actors play Jeff and Karen. He is a Human Resources manager whose daily routine consists of handing out stress balls and initiating trust exercises. She is mostly obsessed with the home decor of their lovely abode in a cul-de-sac, including the chic installation of a urinal. Some needed excitement comes to them when new neighbors move across the way and they’re the interesting and impossibly good looking Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gil Gadot). Tim is the handsome travel writer. Natalie is the gorgeous cooking blogger/social media consultant who also rescues orphans (her LinkedIn page wins).
It’s not long before Karen’s nosiness has her thinking maybe they didn’t quite hit the neighbor jackpot. Turns out she’s right as the Joneses are actually secret government agents investigating nefarious happenings at Jeff’s workplace.
The Joneses real careers means we’re treated to a threadbare subplot involving tracking an arms dealer and some rather tepid action sequences. Yet this is mostly about the chemistry between the four leads as their marriages and friendships develop. It’s just too bad this is contained in a completely unimaginative formulaic manner.
The PG-13 rating does leave the raunch factor to a surprising minimum. This is a script where the sight of two women kissing (oh my!) is treated as a big punchline. Gadot does manage to hold her own playing against these three others known a bit more for the genre (as anyone who’s watched Hamm on SNL can attest to). We see some potential in moments as the bromance between Galifianakis and Hamm grows, but not enough. Greg Mottola, who’s made some fine comedic efforts with Superbad and the underrated Adventureland, is not at the top of his game here. This is the type of picture that the content yet slightly bored suburbanites depicted here might view with some contentment but mostly be bored. And not talk about it much afterwards.
** (out of four)