Keeping Up with the Joneses


One must keep one's focus sharp when shopping for lingerie.

One must keep one’s focus sharp when shopping for lingerie.

(2016) Spy Comedy (20th Century Fox) Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Jon Hamm, Patton Oswalt, Ming Zhao, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Michael Liu, Kevin Dunn, Dayo Abanikanda, Henry Boston, Jack McQuaid, Ying He, Yi Dong Hian, Art Shaffir, Marc Grapey, Karina Bonnefil, Darin Cooper, Angela Ray, Amy Block. Directed by Greg Mottola

 

Neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, everyone knew everyone; we all were in each others’ business. Now, we barely acknowledge each other with a nod of the head. Does anyone really know who their neighbors truly are anymore?

The Gaffneys have a good life. Jeff (Galifianakis) is an HR guy at a big defense contractor. He’s basically a good guy but he hasn’t met a problem yet that he didn’t think could be solved with an aphorism and a stress ball. His wife Karen (Fisher) is an interior designer who has put her career on hold to raise her kids. The cul-de-sac in which they live in suburban Atlanta is well-to-do and close-knit. Jeff is as happy as a clam, Karen a little less so especially now that the kids are gone for the summer. Still, it feels like something is missing in their lives, something that doesn’t appear to be coming back anytime soon – a sense of excitement.

That is, until the Jones family moves in across the street. Natalie (Gadot) is super sexy and capable, absolutely excelling at everything she does; Tim (Hamm) is a travel writer, accomplished, handsome and pretty much an authority on everything. Tim and Jeff hit it off straight away, developing quite the bro-mance. Karen is a little bit more hesitant to connect with the ice-cold Natalie, although she is a little attracted to her sexuality (who isn’t?) to be honest. In fact, perfect Natalie has her a little bit suspicious.

And, it turns out, with good reason; the Joneses are spies and they have their eye on some chicanery going on at Jeff’s place of employment. It involves a mole within the company, a vicious arms dealer known only as the Scorpion and an agency that employs the Joneses who aren’t worried about collateral damage and with the Gaffneys now involved, there’s going to be a whole lot of that.

The ordinary people drawn into extraordinary espionage situations have been popular in the movies with things like True Lies and Spy among others. They act as avatars for the audience, drawn into a world of excitement, glamour and danger. Who wouldn’t want to be a superspy, suave and debonair or beautiful and deadly?

The four leads all interact well among each other, although surprisingly the best chemistry is between Hamm and Galifianakis although considering the two have been friends for awhile offscreen, it may be less surprising than at first glance. The two develop a relationship that is realistic and the kind of friendship most men want to have with other men. The ladies are sexy and made to give each other an obligatory kiss (why is it as a society we find women kissing each other far sexier than men doing it?) but given that Karen are so suspicious of Natalie to begin with whereas the more open Jeff is accepting of Tim right away that the two ladies don’t really develop a friendship as deep as the one the men forge. Perhaps that’s meant to be a commentary on the nature of interactions between women in general. Perhaps not.

The action sequences are for the most part unremarkable and mostly played for last. There is a car chase that’s reasonably cool (given that there are four people in the car that’s being chased rather than the usual two) but again, nothing new is added to the genre here. Of course, it’s not really a requirement that every action sequence has to be innovative.

This is the kind of movie that you really have to turn your brains off for and there’s no shame in that; sometimes what we’re looking for is just pure escapism. Still, you can have escapism without sacrificing story and character development and while the actors do game work here, they are ultimately betrayed by a script that doesn’t give them a whole lot of character to hang their hats on. Maybe the Agency ought to look into that.

REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between the leads is compelling.
REASONS TO STAY: A predictable tired plot sabotages all the best intentions of the filmmakers.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of espionage action, some rude humor, scenes of sexuality and occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  One of three major studio releases in 2016 with the name “Jones’ in the title, the other two being Bridget Jones’ Baby and Free State of Jones.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: 34/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Cents

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New Releases for the Week of October 20, 2016


Jack Reacher: Never Go BackJACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Robert Knepper, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Billy Slaughter, Madalyn Horcher. Directed by Edward Zwick

Former military investigator Jack Reacher returns as his close friend, now heading up his old unit, is arrested for treason. Knowing she’s innocent but unable to prove it, he breaks her out of prison and goes on the run, dead set on finding that proof. What he uncovers instead is a sinister conspiracy that reaches into the very heart of our government, and a secret from Reacher’s past that might have some implications in his current predicament.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements)

A Man Called Ove

(Music Box) Rolf Lassgärd, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Ida Engvoll. A poignant and delightful film about a lonely widower whose face to the world is of a grumpy curmudgeon, but whose tender heart is broken following the death of his beloved wife. Determined to join her in the hereafter, his attempts at suicide are thwarted by the unknowing interventions of a new neighbor who brings Ove back to life and give him new reasons to live. The review for this will be up tomorrow.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language)

Boo! A Madea Halloween

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Bella Thorne, Patrice Lovely. The first Madea movie in three years finds America’s favorite granny fighting off psychos, poltergeists and all manner of ghouls and goblins while keeping a watchful eye on three rambunctious teens. The inspiration is said to come from a scene in Chris Rock’s Top Five in which the Rock character sees a line of people waiting to get in to a movie featuring Madea entitled Boo! In which she plays a badass ghost hunter.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for drug use and references, suggestive content, language, some horror images and thematic material)

I’m Not Ashamed

(Pure Flix) Masey McLain, Ben Davies, Cameron McKendry, Terri Minton. This is the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first student to die at the hands of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The movie is taken from her journal entries, the recollections of her mother and surviving classmates.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, teen drinking and smoking, disturbing violent content and some suggestive situations)

Keeping Up With the Joneses

(20th Century Fox) Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Jon Hamm. An ordinary suburban couple find their lives being changed when a chic and sophisticated couple – the Joneses – move into their neighborhood. Well, it’s not so much that a chic and sophisticated couple moved into the neighborhood but that the Joneses happen to be covert operatives. Won’t that make the next block party fun!

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language)

Miss Hokusai

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Erica Lindbeck, Richard Epcar, Ezra Weisz, Robbie Daymond. One of the greatest artists Japan ever produced is Katsushika Hokusai. His life and art is seen through the eyes of his daughter O-Ei, whose needs were always secondary to his painting.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Anime
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including sexual situations and images)

Ouija: Origin of Evil

(Universal) Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser, Lin Shaye, Doug Jones. In 1965, a widow and her two daughters who run a séance scam decide to add a Ouija board to help bolster their business. Instead, they find that it is a portal to evil that takes over the youngest daughter. Now in a desperate situation with their lives and souls at stake, the eldest daughter and mother must find a way to send the possessing spirit back to the other side and save the girl who’s possessed.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements)

The Pickle Recipe

(Adopt) Jon Dore, Lynn Cohen, Miriam Lee, David Paymer. After a disaster wipes out a party MC’s sound equipment, he reluctantly turns to his shady uncle for help. The uncle agrees to help him out – on the condition that the young man steals his grandmother’s prized pickle recipe which she has vowed to take with her to the grave.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for brief suggestive humor and drug references)

The Joneses


The Joneses

David Duchovney is justs a material girl trying to live in a material world.

(2009) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) David Duchovney, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Chris Williams, Lauren Hutton, Glenne Headly, Christine Evangelista, Rob Pralgo, Tiffany Morgan, Joe Narciso. Directed by Derrick Borte

Our society has devolved into one in which the old truism “whoever dies with the most toys wins” has taken on a new meaning. The crucial signposts of life have become the things we acquire – the shiny new sports car, the state of the art electronics, the high end golf clubs, the designer clothes. Our pursuit of the trappings of success has overcome our pursuit of excellence, making keeping up with the Joneses more than just a spectator sport.

Into a wealthy suburban enclave move in Steve Jones (Duchovney), his impossibly gorgeous wife Kate (Moore), his gorgeous daughter Jenn (Heard) and his handsome son Mick (Hollingsworth). They don’t just have the outer trappings of success – they embody it.

However, what you see on the surface – behind the beautiful home, the flashy car, the nice clothes – is something completely different than what is underneath. There are problems in the perfect family. In fact, they aren’t really a family of all.

What they are is revealed in the trailer, which is another case (see Dream House) of a marketing department robbing a film of its maximum impact. For that reason, I’m leaving the plot description a little thin, other than to say that what the movie is really about is America’s obsession with consumerism and how it robs us of our soul.

Duchovney is perfect for the role of Steve. He has a dry delivery that just hints of the smarmy while remaining acerbic and eventually, empathetic. For a role that could easily descend into self-parody and completely turn off audiences, the very likable Duchovney turns it into a role that audiences will identify with as his character is forced to confront the fall-out of his actions and put his familial loyalty to the test.

Moore has never been one of my favorite actresses, but it has to be said that she can play the driven executive-sort better than nearly anybody and that’s the place she goes for this part. She makes a good foil for Duchovney and I must say the 40-something Moore looks amazing.

That’s neither here nor there though. What I liked is that first-time writer/director Borte takes a terrific concept and uses it to look at an issue that is subtle and seldom explored onscreen, with surprising insight and humor. There is an element of parody to it, but it also hits somewhat uncomfortably close to home.

When it comes right down to it, we tend to be sheep moving from one trend to the other, fickle consumers with an eye to what’s the latest and greatest, not realizing that these things are going to be obsolete in less time than it takes to bring it home from the store. Still, keeping up with the Joneses is as American as apple pie. We just should take a good look at the Joneses and ask why we should aspire to keep up with them.

WHY RENT THIS: A witty, smart commentary on materialism. Duchovney’s dry delivery serves him well here. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie’s plot twist is given away in the trailer. The final reel is a bit predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drinking and teenage drug use, a bit of sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Borte is the brother of professional surfer Jason Borte; both were born in Germany but raised in Virginia.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7M on a $10M production budget; the movie was unprofitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Three Musketeers (2011)