Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Zach Galifianakis, and Gal Gadot think their way out of a suburban spy plot in "Keeping Up With the Joneses."

I came to a hard conclusion after watching Keeping Up With the Joneses: Zach Galifianakis should not be a leading man. Don’t get me wrong. He’s terrifically funny, a force for chaos in The Hangover series and Up in the Air, a memorable eccentric in The Campaign, and even a nice dramatic actor in Birdman and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. However, you’ll notice that in all of those, he was either a secondary lead or part of an ensemble. In this action-comedy, he’s cast as a nervous, normal, constitutionally uncool guy who gets swept up in a thriller plot, and all you can think is that Kevin Hart did this same bit more inventively in Central Intelligence a few months ago. Galifianakis can punch up a movie like few others, but he can’t carry this one that huffs its way across the finish line.

He and Isla Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney, respectively an HR director at a defense contractor and an interior decorator who works from home. This well-to-do couple sends their kids away to summer camp and is pondering how boring their lives have gotten when Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move into their suburban Atlanta cul-de-sac. Karen thinks the Joneses are too perfect, being more worldly, more polished, and better at just about everything than everyone. (They’re also much taller, and the movie’s best sight gag comes at a department-store fitting room, where a lingerie-clad Gadot towers over Fisher.) Sure enough, when the Gaffneys investigate, they find out that their new neighbors are spies.

One of the big running jokes here is that Jeff has so much empathy for others that he can wrest secrets out of a source better than any torturer can. It’s a funny idea on paper that proves to be a big dud in practice. Jeff’s hobbies of indoor skydiving and home beer brewery don’t raise many laughs, either. Galifianakis is too funny not to come up with a few scoring punchlines — at an Asian restaurant that serves him snake, he hysterically cries, “At Panda Express, they don’t serve panda!” — but he hits the same notes over and over as he portrays this soccer dad who keeps blurting out critical information and freaking out over the people being killed around him.


The spy plot gives us nothing either by itself or the way it intersects with the suburban setting, and the introduction of Patton Oswalt as the terrorist supervillain turns out a major disappointment. Keeping Up With the Joneses is bailed out by its main cast, as Fisher does rather better with similar emotions to play, and Hamm unsurprisingly makes an excellent straight man for all the hijinks. They make this spy comedy watchable but no more than that.

[box_info]Keeping Up With the Joneses
Starring Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, and Gal Gadot. Directed by Greg Mottola. Written by Michael LeSieur. Rated PG-13.[/box_info]