Richard and CP24 anchor Stephanie Smythe have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the up-close-and-personal action of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the supernatural thrills of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the spy comedy “Keeping Up with the Joneses” and the new Canadian indie “Mean Dreams.”
Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the up-close-and-personal action of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the supernatural thrills of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the spy comedy “Keeping Up with the Joneses” and the new Canadian indie “Mean Dreams.”
It’s hard to know how to classify “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” a new film starring Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Isla Fisher and Zach Galifianakis. Billed as an action comedy, it contains as many laughs as your average Jason Bourne movie, and as much action as your typical comedy. If anything, it’s a study of quietly desperate suburban life. Now that’s a barrel of laughs!
Karen and Jeff Gaffney (Fisher and Galifianakis) live a quiet life on a quiet Atlanta residential cul-de-sac. He’s a people person, a sensitive HR head at tech giant MBI, she’s a designer and neighbourhood busybody. He doesn’t like spicy food, she doesn’t like the new, impossibly good looking couple, Natalie and Tim Jones (Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm), who have moved in across the street.
Tim is a travel writer who speaks many languages, Natalie devotes time to charity and does a food blog. The couples seem to have nothing in common—the Gaffney’s idea of travelling is going to Epcot. “You can do every country in like three blocks.”—and yet a friendship is struck until some snooping reveals the neighbourhood newbies are actually spies working on a case. Seems the cul-de-sac is a hotbed of international intrigue and the Gaffneys may be involved.
“Keeping Up with the Joneses” is an odd couples movie with so few laughs its hard to believe it was directed by the Greg Mottola, who also gave us “Superbad” and the ET comedy “Paul.” The ‘they’re not who they seem to be’ premise is either a classic or a tired bit, depending on your point of view. Either way a twist or two could have freshened the screwball idea up but instead Mottola shrugs off the heavy lifting to Galifianakis and Fisher. Both can be funny and both will do almost anything to get a laugh but no amount of slapstick and face pulling can inject yuks into what is a sitcom idea stretched thin.
But at least there’s some action, right? Not so fast. There are a handful of tame action sequences synced to lame music that appears lifted from 1980s action adventure TV show.
So, with few laughs and lame action what’s left? Hamm’s rugged good looks? Gadot’s cheekbones? Check and check, both are on display but their genetic gifts are not enough to make their characters interesting.
“Keeping Up with the Joneses” will make you jones for laughs and action.
Adventureland is one of those movies in which the setting—the time and place—are more interesting than the characters that populate it. Set in a rundown amusement park during the Regan years, it’s a coming of age story of James (The Squid and the Whale’s Jesse Eisenberg), a sensitive teen whose plans of moving to New York to attend grad school at Columbia are derailed when his father is downsized and money becomes tight. To get out of Pittsburgh and his stultifying suburban life he needs to get a job. Trouble is he has no skills, just a degree in Renaissance studies and, “Unless someone wants help restoring a fresco,” he says, “I’m screwed.” He eventually lands a gig at Adventureland handing out stuffed animals to the few carnival goers lucky enough to beat the amusement park’s rigged games.
The characters at the park seem like an interesting bunch. There’s the part-time musician, womanizer and maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who claims to have jammed with Lou Reed, even though he refers to one of Reed’s best known songs as Shed A Little Love instead of Satellite of Love; his best friend from grade four Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush) who wears a t-shirt that says “I’m Frigo! Kapeesh!!” and has the unsettling habit of punching James below the belt two or three times a day; the pipe-smoking Joel (Martin Starr), a self loathing Gogol obsessed intellectual who characterizes their jobs as the “work of pathetic morons” and Em (Kirsten Stewart) a pretty but dour tomboy who favors baggy Lou Reed t-shirts.
It’s an interesting canvas but director Greg Mottola, who based the screenplay on his own experiences of working at the real-life Adventureland, doesn’t bring the same kind of zip to the situations or characters as he did in his last movie, the sublime Superbad.
Adventureland breathes the same air as its predecessor but is much different in tone. The goofy guys in Superbad are gone, replaced by James, a young boy who early on makes a mixed tape for Em of his favorite bummer songs, including Lou Reed’s doleful Pale Blues Eyes, which sets the movie’s downbeat tone.
This is not to say there aren’t humorous moments. Bill Hader shines as the larger-than-life park manager and James’s story about his mom reading his diary—he had to start writing it in Italian to throw her off—is hilarious but the overall tone is sweet rather than funny.
As James Eisenberg is appealing enough, but I’m guessing after the success of Twilight this movie will find an audience based on the popularity of co-star Kristen Stewart. Since playing Bella in the vampire franchise she’s become a hot item, and with her naturally down turned mouth she does sullen like no other young actress working today.
Adentureland, with it’s carefully picked 80s soundtrack and close attention to period details is an interesting time capsule of the decade of greed from a teenager’s perspective. I just wish I had cared more about the characters and less about the set decoration.