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‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ needs to step up the entertainment: 2 stars

'Keeping Up with the Joneses' (Official trailer)

An ordinary suburban couple finds it’s not easy keeping up with the Joneses – their impossibly gorgeous and ultra-sophisticated new neighbors – especially when they discover that Mr. and Mrs. “Jones” are covert operatives.
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An ordinary suburban couple finds it’s not easy keeping up with the Joneses – their impossibly gorgeous and ultra-sophisticated new neighbors – especially when they discover that Mr. and Mrs. “Jones” are covert operatives.

“Keeping Up With the Joneses” is the kind of movie you stumble across while channel-surfing basic cable. It could play pleasantly in the background while you did almost anything, and if you missed a few minutes, it wouldn’t matter much.

A spy movie would normally require more concentration, but this is closer to “Get Smart” than “Mission: Impossible.” Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) live in a perfect home on a perfect cul-de-sac in perfect suburban Atlanta. It’s Stepford with a sense of humor, and director Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “Adventureland”) has the offbeat sensibility to make it amusing. When glamorous new neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) show up, it looks like a chance for some excitement in the neighborhood.

A lot more than anyone wanted, in fact. Tim is unusually interested in Jeff’s job, which involves security clearances and government deals. Not that Jeff has real intel — he’s a touchy-feely HR guy for a huge corporation — but it’s enough to bring danger right to the Gaffneys’ tastefully decorated doorstep.

Most of the jokes fit the stereotype of bored “normal” people looking for adventure and the scary oddballs who pull them into it. Galifianakis would usually play the latter type, but he sheds his “Hangover”-era slacker madness and settles into his average guy role.

Fisher, on the other hand, is far too put-together to play a mom who has stopped caring about her appearance. That idea exists only to justify a couple of sexy encounters between her and Gadot, who wasn’t cast as Wonder Woman for nothing.

Hamm owns most of “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” thanks to his midcentury “Mad Men” charm. Michael LeSieur’s screenplay doesn’t do anyone any favors, filled as it is with cliches that got old in the ’90s, but Hamm can make any dialogue dryly funny. Maybe he should be the new James Bond.

Mottola stages a couple of good action scenes, including a car chase/shootout that justifies the movie’s entire budget. A little more of this would have livened things up and possibly offset the too-easy comedic approach. There’s a witty satire of upper-middle-class isolation buried deep inside “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” but why bother with that when you can just have someone fall down?

Read more of freelancer Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.

‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’

Rated PG-13. Time: 1:41.

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