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'Keeping Up with the Joneses' can't keep up

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Talented cast can't quite overcome action comedy's flaws

Few would argue the importance of chemistry when making a comedy. The dynamic between the players is a major key in finding the funny. Timing, comfort, experience, trust, talent it's all vital when trying to make people laugh. Chemistry is an important factor.

But it isn't always enough.

The team assembled for 'Keeping Up with the Joneses' has chemistry to spare. It's a talented, likable ensemble with a wonderfully wide-ranging charisma. However, the script isn't quite up to taking advantage. The end result is an uneven movie that relies too heavily on its dynamic cast to its considerable detriment.

Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis, 'Masterminds') is a regular guy living in suburbia with his wife Karen (Isla Fisher, 'Nocturnal Animals') and their two kids. He works for the local technology company (but not with clearance or anything like that; he's an HR guy) and she's an interior designer. It's an idyllic, albeit fairly bland existence, but one with which that they're reasonably happy.

Their cul-de-sac contentment is thrown into disarray with the arrival of their new neighbors - the Joneses. Travel writer Tim (Jon Hamm, 'Minions') and social media consultant Natalie (Gal Gadot, 'Criminal') are beautiful, sophisticated people the sort of people that don't tend to wind up in the suburbs. And while they're perfectly friendly, there's somethingoff.

While a friendship starts to bloom between Jeff and Tim, Karen is suspicious about the Joneses. She's convinced that they aren't who they say they are. And it turns out she's right Tim and Natalie are actually secret agents who have come to town because of intel saying that a major arms dealer might be dealing with a source inside Jeff's company one who may have real connections to Jeff.

Before they know it, Jeff and Karen are swept up into a whirlwind that they don't understand, filled with action and intrigue and a whole lot of stuff they're not used to seeing in their quiet little neighborhood. No doubt that their lives could have used a little more excitement, but this, as they say, is ridiculous.

'Keeping Up with the Joneses' feels like nothing so much as a missed opportunity. There's a fair amount of promise to the premise particularly with such a strong and capable cast and yet it never quite lives up to its potential. Too many dead spots, too many dud jokesit's basically the first draft of a good movie.

And there's some good here probably more than this review has led you to believe, actually. Again, that's largely due to the cast. Galifianakis has turned his knack for oddball sincerity into a cottage industry; no one marries the mundane to the absurd quite like him. His shtick works well here. And Fisher proves a solid foil here; she's got a great sense of timing and a weird streak of her own. Meanwhile, Hamm once more shows his comedic chops; we're past the point where we can call his comic gifts 'under the radar,' but he still can surprise with just how funny he can be. And Gadot is the biggest surprise, bringing an unexpectedly sharp wit to an underwritten role that could have been one-note. The four of them together plus supporting players like Matt Walsh, Kevin Dunn and a particularly excellent Patton Oswalt are undeniably fun.

The shift from comedy to action and back again gets a bit clunky from time to time, though the action set pieces themselves tend to be pretty good. The narrative drifts, with an air of indifference that varies in degrees but never fully dissipates. So while there are definitely moments of engaging humor and exhilarating action, they're a bit too few and far between. Obviously, you don't expect a movie to adhere to the rules of the real world, but it should at least adhere to the rules it makes for itself.

'Keeping Up with the Joneses' isn't a terrible movie. There's a lot of appeal to watching a cast of talented people who are clearly having a good time with what they're doing. Some laughs, some explosions it's a fun movie despite its significant flaws.

It's just not nearly as fun as it could have been.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:31

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