Sunday, November 19, 2017
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Review: 'Keeping Up With the Joneses' gives zany comedy a bad name

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Keeping Up With the Joneses is the sort of strenuous comedy giving zany a bad name.

It's a spy spoof despite that genre's decline, folded into the uptight suburban schlub with a hot wife idea that's timeless but works better when it's a fraternity next door. Everyone got the memo to go louder, broader, force-feeding jokes in order to burp a few easy laughs.

As Woody Allen said of true comedy: If it bends, it's funny.

This movie snaps like a twig.

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher overplay Jeff and Karen Gaffney, living on Maple Circle, a duller cul-de-sac than it sounds. Then in move the Joneses, a vibrant, sexy couple with an espionage agenda and solid cover stories. Tim (Jon Hamm) is allegedly a travel writer while Natalie (Gal Gadot) works for international causes.

Director Greg Mottola (Adventureland) lays out a typical movie lifestyle of sexual repression and DVR sameness for Jeff and Karen. Even their fantasy interludes seem familiar, uninspired. This couple needs a hotter spark than even Hamm and Gadot can offer, given the rote turns in Michael LeSieur's screenplay.

Tim builds a friendship with mancrushing Jeff to get inside information about his workplace, an aeronautics plant. Jeff is certainly no rocket scientist but an HR supervisor who doesn't relate well to people. Galifianakis delivers a few mild laughs in those contexts. When bullets fly and tires squeal, his performance ducks.

Hamm isn't bad, just not served particularly well by the script. His comical instincts are well established, despite Mad Men and being too darn handsome to be funny for some. Seldom does this material match his relish, except when Tim takes Jake to a bromantic lunch in a venomous hideaway. The jokes are no big deal but Hamm's delivery, a glint in his eye, lends a bit more fun.

While the male characters bond, the women settle into their objectified slots. Gadot doesn't get many chances to prove she's more than a pretty face, legs, etc., who can pose sexily with guns. Fisher's Karen adds another layer of discomfort, spilling out of boop-boop-be-doop lingerie as a sign of feminine strength and trailing Natalie in broad daylight with a conspicuous lack of stealth. Something about a comedic performance must be capable of being taken seriously. Nothing of Fisher's is.

Keeping Up With the Joneses is so flat and uninspired than its MacGuffin is microchips (again) and not even bringing in Patton Oswalt as a closer can save it. Zany just slumped out of the room, with madcap dragging behind.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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