By CYNTHIA BIDDLECOMB
“Keeping up with the Joneses” is an entertaining, lightweight spy movie. It may be too lightweight for those with affection for great action flicks. But it is lighthearted fun for anyone with a sense of humor about Suburbia and therapeutic intervention.
Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) are fairly ordinary, upper middle class parents living on a cul de sac. Their boys go off to camp for the summer, allowing us to get to know Jeff and Karen as individuals and a couple.
The house next door has just sold and quickly the new neighbors move in. They seem too perfect, tall, athletic, well-dressed. The Gaffney’s can’t help but gawk. Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) introduce themselves by coming over almost immediately. They leave a gift of Tim’s own glass blowing art, encouraging Jeff and Karen to leave it in the middle of the coffee table. Thus begins a series of curious instances that make Karen increasingly suspicious.
Jeff is in Human Resources at an aerospace engineering firm, helping workplace squabbles and stresses to get worked out. Occasionally, co-workers with a higher clearance than Jeff come and use his computer to get on the Internet and Jeff doesn’t seem to mind. As we’re reminded several times in the movie, he’s “a people person.” We’ve seen Zach Galifianakis as Jake in Birdman, or in the Hangover or Muppet movies. In this film, he’s into therapeutic self-awareness and stress reduction.
Back at home, Karen is a free-lance interior designer. She is incredibly intuitive. She suspects the Joneses are not who they pretend to be. Her curiosity leads to the Gaffney’s checking out the Joneses. Isla Fisher has played in several episodes of the television show Arrested Development and was in the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby. In this film, she’s friendly and fun, someone you might want living next door.
Jon Hamm (Mad Men’s Don Draper) makes Tim a smart and charming next door neighbor. And he makes a good spy. Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman) makes Natalie a good spy, too, Gadot having actually served in the Israeli Defense Forces. She’s quick, skilled with weapons, and gorgeous. In the film’s supreme irony, she is trying to fit in with the women of the cul de sac.
Tim and Jeff bond over indoor parachuting and eating snake. Natalie and Karen bond in the lingerie department of Bloomingdales. Can they trust each other? Are the Joneses with the good guys? Will they train the Gaffney’s in spy craft? Is Jeff going to blow the whole thing? All I can say is, it is worth watching to find out.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is “Rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language”. The references to marital sex are frequent enough to make this a grown-up movie. The silliness in the film keeps things lighthearted. This movie is a send up of spy flicks, set in the boring everyday-ness of suburban living.