PLOT: Those seemingly perfect new neighbors are actually a group of stealth marketers.
BOTTOM LINE: A brilliant premise, but the movie avoids sharp satire in favor of tepid romance.
CAST: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard
It's not hard to imagine a family like the one in "The Joneses," actually not a family at all but a group of salespeople subliminally pushing new products on unwitting neighbors. While the Joneses make their numbers, the real families around them are borrowing and spending to keep up.
It's a brilliant premise; Americans are so accustomed to dishonest marketing that it sounds more plausible than
satirical. And coming on the heels of a crushing recession fueled by financial recklessness, the movie brims with potential for sharp commentary. (It's no accident that the Joneses call themselves a "cell," terrorist-style.)
David Duchovny plays Steve, an aging ladies' man who is starting to wonder why his only family is a fake one. He's not even head of the house; that's Kate (Demi Moore), who's too busy shilling to return his advances. Their "children" are beautiful but troubled: Jenn (Amber Heard) has a weakness for married men, while Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) hides more than one secret identity.
There are moments of shrewd meta-humor: The Joneses' boss is played by Lauren Hutton, who, as a model, has peddled her share of aspirational glamour. And the film's parade of logos - Audi, Krups, Stella Artois - mocks the product placements so common in movies.
But first-time writer-director Derrick Borte keeps his tone disappointingly light and safe. He's more interested in the tepid romance between Steve and Kate than in making any salient points, and his few nods to morality feel obligatory, not genuine. "The Joneses" starts with a great pitch but ultimately fails to close the deal.