Fox // 2010 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 26th, 2010
Can you keep up?
When I saw the trailer for The Joneses back in early 2010, I remember thinking to myself "I haven't seen that movie before," and having every intention of seeing it. Then, it was released and disappeared from theaters just a week after coming out.
Now, having seen The Joneses on Blu-ray, I kind of get why.
The Joneses. They're the perfect, well-to-do American family. There's dad Steve (David Duchovny, The X-Files), a terrific golfer; Mom Kate (Demi Moore, Mr. Brooks), the gorgeous homemaker; pretty teenage daughter Jenn (Amber Heard, Zombieland) and handsome son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth, The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing the Dream). The Joneses have everything -- the latest technology, the nicest cars, even the best frozen food -- and quickly become the envy of their neighbors (including underused Glenne Headly and Gary Cole). But the Joneses aren't exactly who they seem to be. They are, in fact, not a family at all, but rather the employees of a company called Life Image, and have been hired to pose as a perfect family as a means of selling products to wealthy suburbanites. It isn't long, though, before Steve has a crisis of conscience about deceiving all of his friends and begins to develop feelings for his "wife" Kate. What's a guy to do?
How much credit does one give a movie for introducing an inspired premise, even when the movie squanders the potential of that same premise? This is the quandary when discussing writer/director Derrick Borte's 2010 comedy The Joneses, a film that has the ingredients for a sharp satire about American consumerism and material culture and blows it all on a limp romance and heavy-handed commentary that misfires again and again. At least there's a good idea at the center; most movies don't even have that. At the same time, it's a lot more frustrating when a film starts with potential and blows it completely than when one sets the bar low and meets it.
Disregarding the fact that the film's central conceit doesn't make a ton of sense -- how much growth can a business really show by marketing to a cul-de-sac? -- The Joneses has a neat idea at its center and the potential to be a really sharp, dark satire. And, for a little while, it kind of works; I like how Derrick Borte holds off on the reveal of what's really going on (I only knew because I has seen the trailer for the movie before it played in theaters for all of a week earlier this year) and lets the opening moments unfold instead of forcing in a huge exposition dump. Unfortunately, things begin to fall apart after the first half hour or so when The Joneses abandons its loftier ambitions and tries to develop a warm, gooey center. There's nothing that kills satire faster than the need to make everyone likable and essentially decent, and that's just what The Jonses does. The film backs down just when it should be going in for the kill. What's more, the movie tries to have it both ways by inserting heavy-handed "consequences" to punish everyone for their actions. Such dramatic moments are telegraphed in the early going, but the movie manages to cover up that familiarity with effective direction; Gary Cole's "big scene" has been done dozens of times (in better films), but some nice photography and a good soundtrack help carry the moment. If fact, Derrick Borte shows promise as a director in The Joneses; it's his screenplay that could use some work.
If nothing else, The Joneses is easily watchable for its cast. Duchovny is the definition of affability as the movie's lead, but that almost works against him after a certain point; he's so laid back and nice that it becomes difficult to believe he would enter such a mercenary occupation. Duchovny plays the role as if he took the job in the hopes of meeting a nice lady and settling down -- a plot development that should be a surprising side effect, not the intended endgame. And though Demi Moore is smart casting -- beautiful, icy and hollow -- she has the opposite problem of Duchovny. She works in the film's first half, but when things start transitioning into the standard romantic plot she offers no evidence of why a man would fall in love with her (besides the fact that she used to be Demi Moore). The film doesn't need the romance stuff, but if it's going to force it in where it isn't needed or wanted (and, boy, does it ever), at least allow it to convincingly spring from the chemistry of the stars. Duchovny and Moore are fine together in The Joneses, but neither is enough of a person to suggest that they could be loved.
Fox's Blu-ray of The Joneses is, like the movie itself, slick and attractive but utterly lacking in substance. The 2.40:1 1080p transfer is warm and pleasant, with a lot of good facial detail (Demi Moore can thank Fox later). Occasional softness creeps in towards the end and the movie's overall color palette is fairly monochromatic -- it's all cold whites and bronzed skin -- but this is a good-looking HD transfer overall. The DTS-HD Master Audio track isn't called upon to do much, but handles the dialogue and good (if a little generic) soundtrack of moody pop music well. The Joneses isn't the kind of film that's going to give your home theater a workout, and, thankfully, Fox hasn't overly dressed up the sound design to compensate for what's a straightforward, dialogue-driven title. The only bonus feature included on the disc is a pair of deleted scenes featuring Duchovny.
In a lot of ways, The Joneses reminded me of the long-forgotten Al Pacino vehicle S1m0ne, another movie that fails to deliver on its inspired, timely premise. The two films aren't similar except in the way that both fall short of success, and I suspect The Joneses is destined for S1m0ne's fate in pop culture obscurity. Don't believe me? Ask anyone if they remember the movie S1m0ne, and remember the look he or she gives you. Now you've seen the future of The Joneses.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes