“Keeping Up With the Joneses” is as blandly generic as its title, a comedy that telegraphs every beat with a one-sentence description of the premise and continues the cinematic squandering of Zach Galifianakis since “The Hangover.”
What little fun the movie conjures comes largely courtesy of Jon Hamm and “Wonder Woman’s” Gal Gadot as the too-perfect new neighbors, who take up residence in the quiet cul-de-sac where Galifianakis’ Jeff and his wife Karen (Isla Fisher) reside.
Having just dispatched the kids to summer camp, Jeff and Karen have slipped into such a humdrum suburban life that they can’t even have a decent “Home Alone” moment with the house to themselves. But Karen is suspicious of the model-perfect newcomers who move in next door with an all-cash purchase, while Jeff – a human resources manager at a big aerospace firm – just seems happy to have made a new friend.
The clues pile up, naturally, before Jeff is presented evidence that suggests Karen wasn’t crazy in surmising that the Tim and Natalie are spies.
Yet what ensues after that is noisy but never remotely clever. Instead, it’s virtually a nuts-and-bolts version of the basic idea, a trailer extended to feature length. Jeff and Karen get drawn into the intrigue – the former in a constant state of panic, the latter oddly warming to it – while the Joneses aren’t entirely immune from having Jeff’s corporate counseling skills rub off on them.
Directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) from a script by Michael LeSieur, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” does offer Hamm a chance to show off his lighter side, while Gadot demonstrates she can do the same in a role where she’s spared from donning a costume and tiara. By contrast, those who enjoy Galifianakis’ droll wit in his “Between Two Ferns” interviews will again be reminded how difficult it’s been translating those qualities.
Obviously, there’s room for light escapism, but also scant incentive to see a movie that feels like a sitcom pilot, or what would be turned into one in the unlikely event of success. And when it comes to a mission this forgettable, the Joneses might not be the only ones tempted to use an alias.
“Keeping Up With the Joneses” opens October 21. It’s rated PG-13.