While not particularly hilarious, Keeping Up with the Joneses is a lot of fun, but it begs a much bigger question that seems to continuously go unanswered: Is Jon Hamm ever going to land a role fitting of his immense talent?
Greg Mottola’s action-comedy utilizes its cast in a pretty typical way, and in doing so spins a somewhat old-fashioned tale, albeit with modern action set pieces. The Gaffneys are a typical suburban couple. Jeff and Karen (Zach Galifianakis & Isla Fisher) have just sent their kids off to summer camp, and have found themselves in a bit of a rut. Where are all the fireworks? Is this it? They’re happily doomed to an eternity of Netflix and chill (it’s jokingly stated that their bedroom activity is short and sweet – for fear of the kids overhearing them). But when the Joneses move in next door, they can’t help but compare themselves to what appears to be a more glamorous life. Tim Jones (Jon Hamm) is a retired travel writer with a litany of hip hobbies. He blows glass, knows all of the best underground dining spots, and speaks more languages than most can name. Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot) is a social media consultant who fills her down time with philanthropic endeavors. To the Gaffneys, this couple is enchanting and exotic, and it’s not long before the Joneses are welcomed into the stale community.
But since this is a movie, the Joneses are actually a pair of super-spies on an undercover operation involving shady goings on at Jeff’s workplace. The film unfolds pretty much how anyone who’s seen a movie before would guess, as the Gaffneys become embroiled in an espionage plot against their will. And wouldn’t you know it? The sudden introduction of thrills is exactly what their marriage needed. Conversely, this window into the mundane is precisely what the Joneses needed too.
Hijinks ensue, mostly involving Galifianakis’s brand of oddball physical comedy, and as the stakes rise, so does the action. The set-pieces are par for the course, CGI explosions, Bond-esque gadgetry and all. It’s harmless fun, and despite the absence of inspired jokes in favor of heaps of plot contrivances, the story – a study of friendships, relationships, and the value of stepping out of one’s comfort zone – ends up being enough to give the film value. It’s charming and kind-hearted to the extreme, with enough comedy nerd cameos to keep fanboys on alert.
But in the middle of it all is Jon Hamm, doing incredible work in a role that is simply below him. It’s exhausting to see his talent wasted as an extended comedic cameo. It’s almost as if the novelty of him simply being Jon Hamm is enough (and in a vacuum, it is), but when you’ve seen Mad Men, or the Christmas episode of Black Mirror, you know there’s a phenomenal performer just dying to flex. Can he be the next Bond? Maybe the next Batman if we’re ever lucky enough to see The Dark Knight Returns on the big screen? Please????
This is a boozy redbox rental if there ever was one, and is markedly better than Galifianakis’s other comedy caper of the year, Masterminds. But with such a talented pedigree of both cast and crew (Mottola gave us Superbad, mind you), it does leave you wanting more; wondering what could have been had the aspirations of Keeping Up with the Joneses been higher.
Quick question: In Toronto, is Jon Hamm known as Jon Canadian Baconn?
I’m as sorry for that as I am proud.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.