Keeping Up with the Joneses tells the story of mild-mannered suburban couple Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher), who are looking forward to a summer without the kids. But the two are in a real rut as a couple, and seem to be content to spend their summer just going through their comfortable routine. But then Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in next door. Karen almost immediately grows suspicious of the seemingly perfect couple, while Jeff is just happy to have a new friend in Tim. But Karen's suspicions turn out to be right, as the Joneses are actually spies.
The film moves forward with the suburban couple suddenly becoming involved in a dangerous game of high stakes international espionage. And any reasonable audience member will likely figure out what happens from there. The film doesn’t really try anything new, a basic formula asserting itself in practically every scene. The elements of the modern mainstream comedic film are all there: the put upon lead, the unlikely bromance, the emasculating women, and a general talkiness. The film isn’t bad, really, but it does feel kind of bland. These talents probably deserve a little better than this.
The story is kind of built on a middle-aged couple becoming bored with their life. Except Jeff really does seem to like living in that cul-de-sac. He might not be living the most exciting life, but he does seem thoroughly satisfied by it. The film tries to wring a lot of comedy out of him being a rube who doesn’t really know anything, and that only goes so far. At some point, you just really want Jeff to step up and be a hero. But the film hardly affords him the opportunity. Right up to the very end, he’s still just more prone to ruining everything.
The plot itself moves pretty listlessly. There’s little sense of the danger that’s supposed to be surrounding these characters. In lieu of that, the film makes a stab at sweetness that sometimes works. There is just a hint of pathos is the friendship of Jeff and Tim, and it’s enough to give the film somewhat of a narrative hook. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply for the female characters in the film. They are practically window dressing in this film, in spite of fairly committed performances.
The action is nothing to write home about. The movie is really putting a lot of the burden on the actors to make things work. And Zach Galifianakis is fine enough in the lead role, but it does at times feel like he’s trying a little too hard. Jon Hamm is kind of perfect as Tim Jones, ably displaying the vulnerability between the suave façade of his spy character. Isla Fisher and Gal Gadot are certainly game, but like so many other modern comedies, the female characters are just generally underserved. They don’t get many chances to be funny. For the most part, the film just seems to want to strip them down.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is watchable, certainly. As lazy mainstream comedies go, it isn’t the laziest. But that’s hardly the kind of praise that you really want for a film. At best, it is yet another showcase for the tremendous comedic talent that’s out there today. Jon Hamm is genuinely great in this film, offering layers that aren’t really written into the script. But everything could be better. Everyone behind the camera could be trying a little harder. This just feels like something that you’ll end up seeing on HBO one day.