A concept that is tough to buy into
Who even talks about keeping up with the Joneses anymore?
Considering that nowadays our envy can be directed at just about anyone with secure employment and a car that doesn’t accelerate on its own, haven’t the stereotypical Joneses gone the way of time-share condos and personal bread-making machines? Not that we’re any less driven by consumption, but most of us sure don’t brag about our spending habits.
Still, here comes the new movie, “The Joneses,’’ acting as though it’s the timeliest of stories and pretending it has something creative and important to say.
Instead, this disposable dramedy from first-time writer-director Derrick Borte and co-writer Randy T. Dinzler offers little more than standard Hollywood piffle, dolled up with extra-slick product placements for the latest, greatest stuff that money can buy. It’s cute and clever to a point — especially if you don’t know much about the film’s premise going in — but then the cleverness runs on like the one-note punch line of an interminable “Saturday Night Live’’ sketch, sponsored by Audi. And things only get worse when Borte tries to humanize his characters in the third act.
As the film begins, the Joneses — Steve (David Duchovny) and Kate (Demi Moore) and their oddly adult-acting teenagers, Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Amber Heard) — are just moving into a twinkling McMansion in an upscale suburb. Their castle-like home comes fully loaded with everything they’ll need to dazzle the neighbors (Gary Cole and Glenne Headly play an especially gullible rich couple in a stale marriage) and ultimately have them replicating the exact same product-driven lifestyle all over town. You see, the Joneses are a faux family set up by a stealth marketing firm (Lauren Hutton plays the boss) whose job it is to sell, sell, sell. They do this by flaunting their have-it-all lives while flashing the trendiest clothing, electronics, makeup, groceries . . . the full list of products and services knows no bounds; even their Toto toilet is cutting edge. And this, of course, allows a parade of brand-name placements that any film studio would clamor to green-light.
Viewers are let in on the Joneses’ secret pretty early in the plot. And even before that, you know something’s up when the entire family rushes to answer every doorbell with gleaming smiles and a unified chorus of “Hello!’’ Clearly, these people are not normal.
Just how abnormal they are is revealed in due course, which comes far too quickly and coincides with Borte running out of ideas. He keeps up the shilling and the in-jokes (oh, look: a cameo by that camera-hogging blonde from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta’’!), but lets the rest of his movie devolve into a generic hash of contrived comedy, romance, and tragedy, the saddest part of which is that a way-cool, high-end riding lawn mower winds up at the bottom of someone’s swimming pool.
Borte’s greatest assets are Duchovny and Moore, who make a pretty likable couple even when they’re acting despicable. Duchovny, in particular, gives his character a less stiff, more convincing sensibility that provokes some of the biggest laughs. He plays the most human guy to begin with, so he fares a little better than the rest of the family when the story calls for feel-good redemption in the final minutes.
Duchovny also drives the most memorable scene when he asks his fake children if they’d like to spend some real time together. He suggests they all go to the movies.
“I don’t get it,’’ replies one. “What would we sell there?’’
Hmm. Let’s make a list.
Janice Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.