Just a few years ago, a comedy like “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” in which two suburbanites are drawn into a high-stakes espionage plot, might have seemed like a perfectly good way to spend an evening. Its premise is zany (if overly familiar), its cast is an appealing mix of comedic actors and glamorous stars, and while it never packs a real belly laugh, it offers a steady stream of low-key jokes and amusing moments. Isn’t that enough for a night at the movies?
It used to be, before entertainment became so ubiquitous, cheap and easy to access. Directed by Dix Hills’ Greg Mottola from a screenplay by Michael LeSieur, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is an amiable little comedy, but it arrives at a time when couch-bound audiences need more than that to haul themselves out to the multiplex.
“Keeping Up With the Joneses” stars Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher as Jeff and Karen Gaffney, owners of a nice house in a nice cul-de-sac in Atlanta. He’s an HR staffer at an aerospace company, she’s an interior designer; their kids are conveniently away at camp for the duration of the film. Enter the new neighbors, Tim and Natalie Jones, played by Jon Hamm, the roguish star of “Mad Men,” and the Israeli actress Gal Gadot, our future “Wonder Woman.”
They’re not exactly the cul-de-sac types. He’s a hunky travel writer, she’s a towering beauty with an exotic accent (“Is that Pittsburgh?” guesses Jeff). Here’s a mild spoiler: They’re actually spies! That explains why Natalie carries a bulletproof metal briefcase while shopping at the local mall, and Tim keeps asking about Jeff’s fellow employees. Jeff, who thought he and Tim were bonding so well, is particularly crushed to discover the truth.
Galifianakis and Fisher have an easy rapport as an unglamorous but good-hearted couple, although Hamm and Gadot don’t quite convince as two sexy spies who have their own relationship problems. Overall, it’s nice to see a comedy that doesn’t rely on R-rated vulgarity or mean-spirited mockery to get by, but “Keeping Up With the Joneses” isn’t worth leaving home for.