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Stellar cast powers suburban spy comedy 'Keeping Up With the Joneses'

Posted October 24

“KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES” — 3 stars — Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot; PG-13 (sexual content, action violence and brief strong lanugage); in general release

Hollywood has given us plenty of “international spy meets the suburbs” movies over the years. Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled Jamie Lee Curtis from her domestic complacency in 1994’s “True Lies,” and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were a couple of spies playing house in 2005’s “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

But while those films put a comic twist on the action film genre, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” tips the scales in the opposite direction, and its cast is perfect for the operation.

This time around, Gal Gadot (fresh off her work as Wonder Woman in “Batman v. Superman”) and Jon Hamm play the suburban spies, hiding out for the CIA under the cover names Natalie and Tim Jones.

They arrive in a gorgeous, idyllic suburban Atlanta cul-de-sac right around the time their neighbors Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) are starting to get tired of the American dream. Jeff works as the human resources officer for a tech company named MBI, and Karen’s duties around the house have just gotten a lot easier now that the couple’s sons are off to camp for the summer.

But Karen’s boredom is quickly replaced by an obsession with her glamorous new neighbors. Natalie and Tim appear to have the perfect life. Tim poses as a travel writer who is into glass blowing. Natalie is a doctor who raises money for humanitarian efforts when she isn’t showing up to neighborhood parties in exquisite chic dresses.

Tim takes Jeff under his wing, sweeping him off to a secret Chinese snake restaurant (meaning: they serve snake) before asking him searching questions about his co-workers. Natalie catches Karen shadowing her around town, then winds up trying on lingerie with her while giving her tips on how to spice up her relationship with Jeff.

But facades crack, and eventually the truth is revealed: the government knows that someone at MBI is selling state secrets — turns out the company manufactures top secret microchips — and the Joneses have been sent to find out who.

It isn’t the most original premise in the world, but it is a lot of fun, thanks to the quality of the cast. Galifianakis is more understated than in a lot of his roles (including the recent “Masterminds”), and is a perfect fit as the suburban HR yawn Jeff. Fisher is a riot as the frustrated housewife Karen, and Gadot counters her with just the right amount of runway model stiffness.

Best of all is Hamm, who is much more funny than his classic “Mad Men” looks might suggest (though this will be no surprise to fans of his turn on NBC’s “30 Rock”). Where guys like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise can use humor to complement their action roles, Hamm feels like a comedian who can also sell himself as an action star.

The result is a fun and manic film that — while definitely earning its PG-13 rating — fills that rare contemporary void between comedies that are aimed at little kids and those that are stuffed with raunchy R-rated content.

“Keeping Up with the Joneses” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong lanugage; running time: 105 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.

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