‘The Jone­ses’ is another stu­dio com­edy mis­fire

Malta Independent - - CINEMA - ■ Jake Coyle AP Film Writer

The modern stu­dio com­edy in­creas­ingly feels limp, suf­fo­cated by the fi­nan­cial im­per­a­tives of high-con­cept plots and des­per­ately in search of signs of life. Greg Mot­tola’s “Keep­ing Up With the Jone­ses” is, like many be­fore it, fine enough. But it mostly goes down as another col­lec­tion of funny peo­ple stuck in too nar­rowly clichéd roles in an overly fa­mil­iar story.

It’s now been more than 10 years since “The 40 Year-Old Vir­gin” and five since “Bridesmaids.” (Feel old yet?) There have, un­doubt­edly, been good come­dies since, namely things with Melissa McCarthy in them, Noah Baum­bach’s “Frances Ha” and any­thing Wes An­der­son is putting out. But there has been per­haps no greater ca­su­alty to the con­stric­tions of block­buster-cen­tric Hol­ly­wood than com­edy. The free­dom nec­es­sary for com­edy to thrive is mostly found on tele­vi­sion; the ac­tion is with “Broad City,” ‘’At­lanta,” ‘’In­side Amy Schumer” and oth­ers.

Mot­tola, the di­rec­tor of “Ad­ven­ture­land” and “Su­per­bad,” has been at the cen­ter of com­edy on both the big screen and on TV (“Ar­rested Devel­op­ment,” the un­der­rated “Clear His­tory”), but “Keep­ing Up With the Jone­ses,” writ­ten by Michael LeSieur (“You, Me and Dupree”) doesn’t have much of the nat­u­ral­ism that has distin­guished his best.

Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis and Isla Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney, a reg­u­lar sub­ur­ban­ite cou­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an empty nest for the first time with their kids away at sum­mer camp. An im­pos­si­bly stylish and ac­com­plished cou­ple moves in next door, the Jone­ses (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot, tak­ing a break from her Won­der Woman du­ties). He’s a travel writer who can blow his own glass; she writes a cook­ing blog and wears cock­tail dresses to neigh­bor­hood bar­be­ques. But what makes the Jone­ses most jeal­ous of them is their easy af­fec­tion with one another. Though its name is taken from the sta­tus-ob­sessed phrase first made fa­mous by a 1913 comic strip and coopted by the Kar­dashi­ans, this “Keep­ing Up With the Jone­ses” is a com­edy about mar­i­tal pas­sion rekin­dled.

That the Jone­ses are putting up a fa­cade is ev­i­dent from the start, but the movie clev­erly sub­verts the na­ture of their se­cret iden­ti­ties. They are elite gov­ern­ment spies of some sort, but not as far re­moved from the nor­mal squab­bles and chal­lenges of mar­riage as you might think.

The col­li­sion of in­ter­na­tional es­pi­onage thrills and quiet sub­ur­ban life has be­come fa­mil­iar by now thanks to the likes of “The Mata­dor,” ‘’Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “The Amer­i­cans.” When the bul­lets start fly­ing, “Keep­ing Up With the Jones” has some moves of its own, thanks to the tal­ents of Gal­i­fi­anakis (here play­ing a naive, aw­shucks char­ac­ter that lim­its him) and the al­ways game Fisher. Only Hamm man­ages to cre­ate a three­d­i­men­sional char­ac­ter: a James Bond se­cretly yearn­ing to be a reg­u­lar guy.

But what­ever is cramp­ing the style of “Keep­ing Up With Jone­ses” — whether it’s the PG-13 rat­ing, the stock char­ac­ters or a thin script — the feel­ing never leaves that ev­ery­one here could do bet­ter if they were re­ally let loose. Alas, it’s go­ing to take more than Won­der Woman to save the stu­dio com­edy.

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