Not every comedy needs to be the next classic. There are plenty of fantastic comedies that most people have probably never heard of. That’s not to say Keeping Up with the Joneses is a new classic — it’s far from it. But it’s also never horrible either. Some comedies can maintain enough momentum to justify their existence, even if it’s barely enough to keep it out of straight-to-video bargain bins. Director Greg Mottola’s last three films — Superbad, Adventureland, and Paul — may have set expectations higher than they should be, but it never completely flops either. It’s just that Mottola — along with his cast of Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, and Jon Hamm — could have given us so much more.
Jeff (Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Fisher) live such exhausted, routine lives that when they send their kids away to camp, the only thing they wanna do is queue up the DVR and pop some popcorn. They lack the spark they used to have, but it seems to reawaken after the Joneses — Tim (Hamm) and Natalie (Gadot) — move in across the street. They just seem too perfect and it starts eating away at Karen so much that she starts following Natalie around town. After Jeff and Karen find a surveillance monitor in a gift from the Joneses, all their suspicions are confirmed and they become embroiled in trying to keep their squeaky clean suburban demeanor. All while, you guessed it, keeping up with the Joneses in a high stakes game of espionage.
Michael LeSieur’s screenplay has some fun lines scattered throughout — the funniest being Jeff and Karen bickering about that time Karen thought he was possessed — and tries toying with spy conventions, but this is absolutely the least funny film of Mottola’s career. Of course, when you look back at who was responsible for his string of hits — Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Paul), Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad), and himself for Adventureland — there was obviously a little spit shine still needed before the screenplay made its way in front of the camera. Considering the only recognizable film on LeSieur’s resume is You, Me and Dupree, it’s not a total shock at the absence of hilarity.
At least the cast seems to be having fun. Galifianakis is more likeable than he almost ever has been as a lead and makes his pairing alongside Fisher surprisingly believable. Gadot and Hamm, however, steal the whole movie. The two have considerable chemistry and it would actually be hilarious if a sequel/spin-off featured them trying to keep up with the Gaffneys while living a truly domesticated life and trying to let old habits die hard. I’m sure any married with children couple will find plenty to laugh at, while spy fans will have fun watching Wonder Woman and Don Draper save the day in style. Keeping Up with the Joneses may not be the funniest film of the year, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion to recommend as a fun date movie.