Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) live a normal life in a picturesque Atlanta cul-de-sac. When Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in, they seem another perfect addition to the neighbourhood. However, Jeff and Karen soon discover that Tim and Natalie’s superficial domestic perfection hides the fact that they’re really government spies on a secret mission investigating Jeff’s coworkers.
Once upon a time, director Greg Mottola looked like something special. He directed the outrageous Superbad, which proved to be the best of Judd Apatow’s many productions, and moved onto the poignant Adventureland, which is a minor nostalgia classic. But then he directed the lacklustre Paul, which wasn’t bad but certainly lacked any distinctive features. Now he has bafflingly made the atrocious Keeping Up with the Joneses, which bears none of the promise and composure of his early efforts. A blandly juvenile comedy about parenting and neighbourliness, the film has no visual or verbal wit.
As a story, Keeping Up with the Joneses has no coherence or originality. It superficially nods to Eisenhower-era comedies with its colour palette and mixture of slapstick and high-spirited domestic humour. But its plot has no surprises, its visual style is flat, and its writing doesn’t even try for punchlines. Instead, the film relies on the actors to physically pratfall or exaggerate their line deliveries to supply even half-a-joke.
I feel bad for the actors here. Zach Galifianakis is a funny actor who’s great with throwaway non sequiturs—the only laugh in Keeping Up with the Joneses has to do with Galifianakis matter-of-factly commenting that he needs to take a bath. But he’s given nothing to work with here. Same with Isla Fisher, who tries desperately to defibrillate the film’s comic heartbeat. As for Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot, they’re little more than human mannequins, reduced to nothing but their physical perfection.
Still, as bad as the film’s writing and humour is, nothing compares to its wretched filmmaking. Every shot is hideous. The frame is sloppy. There are focus buzzes throughout the film. The editing has no rhythm and indistinctly cuts between nearly-identical angles. Most student productions have more consistent visual styles.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is the worst kind of Hollywood comedy. It’s bland, it’s broad, it delivers no thematic or narrative interest, and it squanders four talented actors in lazily-written roles. And worst of all, it provides only one laugh in its entire 101-minute runtime.