By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
The premise of Derrick Borte's directing debut The Joneses is a refreshing twist on the mistaken identities and misunderstandings so many movies hinge upon.
It's a consumerism conspiracy theory, a worldwide scam pulled on affluent communities by sophisticated grifters posing as new neighbors whom everyone wants to be. Starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore, the Joneses flash the best and newest of everything — furniture, golf clubs, you name it — to eager suburban marks with money to afford keeping up with them.
I knew that much going into Borte's movie, and left impressed by the way that he and co-writer Randy T. Dinzler lay out this consumer con, making it as relevant in today's economic climate as Up in the Air was.
Except for slipping on a third-act soapbox, The Joneses is a deft allegory of the greed and coveting that led to the recession. At times, you wonder if something like this scam could really happen, or does.
Everything about this photogenic family seems off from the get-go. Driving a plush Audi SUV to their picturesque new home, Steve Jones (David Duchovny at his best) acts as if he just drove off the car lot, wishing he'd sold the model back in Scottsdale. His wife, Kate (Demi Moore), isn't as giddy as a new mansion owner with an Ethan Allen delivery should be. In the backseat, daughter Jenn (Amber Heard) and son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) seem too eager to enroll in a different high school and make friends.
Next door, Summer (Glenne Headly) and Larry (Gary Cole) prep a welcome basket. This is not a contented marriage. She's a neurotic wanna-be cosmetics super-seller. He has made his money and simply wants to enjoy it; let the new folks settle in. Yet they're greeted by a living Jones family postcard and beckoned inside, where the subtle selling begins.
Except that the Joneses aren't salespeople. They "sell a lifestyle, an attitude" for a far-fetched consortium of manufacturers, with online updates of upticks in retail sales of whatever blingy things they show off. The Joneses often taps the same shopping fetish for luxury geeks as Sex and the City does for women; this movie may have been financed through high-end product placement alone.
Alas, money can't buy love, even for the con artists stealing it, and that's when The Joneses sags. The fact that Steve and Kate aren't really married causes sexual tension, Jenn's libido gets revved too high to keep the scheme running smoothly, and Mick has a secret or two of his own. Borte and Dinzler run an amusing shell game of truths that eventually gets too easy to beat.
For a while, though, The Joneses is a sassy satire of conspicuous consumption and what happens when con men sell the sizzle, letting someone else pay for the steak.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Read Reeling in the Years at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.