Go deep undercover in this hilarious action-comedy with an all-star cast including Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher and Gal Gadot. An ordinary suburban couple finds it’s not easy keeping up with the Joneses — their impossibly attractive and ultra-sophisticated new neighbors — especially when they discover Mr. and Mrs. Jones are covert spies embroiled in international espionage.
It's very telling when an audience can literally track and count the amount of times they laugh in a comedy, which is what 'Keeping up with the Joneses' alleges to be. And apparently, two is the magic number for feigning a smile, like pretending to enjoy the company of your neighbors and forcing the occasional fake laugh at their idiotic jokes just to seem polite. The first genuinely funny moment comes when Zach Galifianakis opens a beer bottle with his wedding ring, imitating his suave, charmingly handsome new neighbor (Jon Hamm), but only ends up gouging his palm. I can't really explain it, but there's something funny in seeing Galifianakis physically punished as a result of his abject stupidity. The second laugh was hearing him mangle the word "jalapeño," followed by Isla Fisher providing her own mispronunciation. (It's pronounced "HA-la-peN-YO" people!) I can only guess the joke is meant to point out the naïve, sheltered bubble of their suburban life, hinting at some possibly clever cultural jabs on the part of the filmmakers.
However, that would suggest giving this mostly humorless dud far more credit than it deserves. The premise alone is intriguing enough, rife with the potential to probe ordinary suburbia in the 21st Century. But director Greg Mottola ('Superbad,' 'Adventureland') and his team squander every opportunity in favor of adhering to the standard spy comedy, which just happens to take residence in the typical all-American middle-class neighborhood. Much like the characters themselves, the visual and verbal gags are tediously prosaic and passionless, mostly because they are the same ones repeated from practically every comedy about the suburbs. With the kids gone for summer camp — how convenient! — Galifianakis and Fisher as married suburbanites Jeff and Karen Gaffney immediately go through the usual motions. Bored by the monotony of their routine and — haha! — sexless life, Jeff daydreams for a meaningful career while fed up interior designer Karen itches for more excitement in her day.
Not long after — but still waiting for the jokes to commence, which only makes the wait feel as though frustratingly forever — new neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in a couple houses down. Immediately, the filmmakers go out their way in making the Joneses appear like the most annoyingly perfect and glamorous couple to ever grace the planet, which really wouldn't be such a big deal if they also somehow injected this mind-numbingly stale comedy with, some shimmer of life and hope. Being successful travel writers with a penchant for uniquely exotic foods, you'd think the cool and stylish pair would pick up a joke or two. Instead, audiences are distracted with scenes of Gadot acting threateningly while wearing highly revealing lingerie. Meanwhile, Hamm fishes for information about Galifianakis's colleagues in a scene that ultimately feels like a long setup for a stupid pratfall involving the consumption of snake meat, the venom of a viper's head and a drunk Galifianakis.
It's all a cover, of course, to hide their true intentions. But man, they must be the worst spies ever if busybody Fisher, who can't decide on being envious of her neighbors or irritatingly nosy, can discover their secret identities by simply following them. And as would be expected in something as generic and dull as this, 'Keeping up with the Joneses' has the completely opposite couples help one another's marriage. Most obvious, the Joneses help the Gaffneys spice things up and encourage them to seek adventures. While not as obvious but nonetheless predictable, the Gaffneys deliver a public service announcement about being more open and honest with one's spouse. And lest we forget, the Joneses prove themselves capable agents solving the mystery because, well, the plot dictates it. Snore! The filmmakers want to imagine suburbia is where middle age and the joys of a fulfilled life go to die, but they only succeed in making this cul-de-sac neighborhood the place where comedy withers away and suffers a painfully slow, agonizing death.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Keeping up with the Joneses' to Blu-ray as two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 inside a blue, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. A couple skippable trailers kick things off before switching to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips while music plays in the background.
The Joneses move into the Blu neighborhood with a fantastic and often gorgeous 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Shot on 35mm film, the freshly-minted transfer is, on the whole, squeaky-clean and pretty faultless, exposing a great amount detailing in the furniture and clothing. Facial complexions are terrifically revealing, showing every wrinkle, pore and tiny negligible blemish. Only thing keeping the presentation from a perfect score is the deliberately dreamy, soft focus photography making some sequences inexplicably blurrier than others.
Overall, the 2.40:1 image remains very well-defined and razor-sharp with excellently balanced contrast and pitch-perfect whites glowing through all the haziness, giving suburbia a wistfully vibrant appeal. Black levels are inky rich with deep, penetrating shadows that don't ruin delineation in the darkest portions of the frame and show outstanding distinction between gradations. Best of all is the colorfully vivid palette in Andrew Dunn's photography, radiating with sumptuous primaries and a varied array of glowing secondary hues that make the neighborhood all the more attractive and utopian.
Fox has decided to furnish the new neighbors with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which delivers the action-packed goods though it won't likely rock the neighborhood.
Much of the attention is focused on the front soundstage, maintaining excellent balance and separation. Various background and off-screen activity occupy the two channels to generate a convincingly effective soundscape while the center delivers precise, distinct vocals from beginning to end. Some of the those effects occasionally travel into the sides and rears with great directionality and panning, creating a decently satisfying soundfield. But for the most part, the surrounds are not given much of a workout and reserved for when things finally get dicey for our fish-out-of-water couple.
The midrange is quite dynamic and surprisingly extensive, sustaining exceptional clarity and detail during the many explosive and loud action sequences. With that in mind, the low-end can feel somewhat modest and not particularly impressive, which is not to suggest it's bad. It is serviceable with some palpable weight in the music and action, but given the visuals, it's also feels pretty average and midlevel, much like our pair of suburban heroes.
Mixing the spy formula with a heavy dose of middle-class suburbia, 'Keeping up with the Joneses' offers nothing new to either genre while forgetting to be either funny or create an intriguing mystery to warrant the mayhem and high jinks. From the director of 'Superbad' and 'Adventureland,' Greg Mottola fails to make the best use of an otherwise talented cast. The Blu-ray arrives with a beautiful, near-reference video and an excellent audio presentation. Unfortunately, with a rather weak collection of supplements, the overall package makes for a rental at best.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.