[Screen It]

(2010) (David Duchovny, Demi Moore) (R)

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Comedy: The Jones family moves into an upscale, suburban community and immediately becomes the envy of their neighbors who don't realize they're not a real family but a stealth marketing unit instead.
The Joneses appear to be the perfect family. Husband and father Steve (DAVID DUCHOVNY) is obviously successful, drives a cool car, is an exceptional golfer, and is the picture of health. Wife and mother Kate (DEMI MOORE) seems to have it all together with her confident demeanor, trendy clothes, and great hair. All the girls at school want to be daughter Jenn (AMBER HEARD), who has the latest styles and the most cutting-edge mobile technology. Son Mick (BEN HOLLINGSWORTH), meanwhile, has a skateboard no one has ever seen before, drives a great car, and has immediately caught the eye of Naomi (CHRISTINE EVANGELISTA).

But all is not as it seems. The Joneses are really not a family at all, but a stealth marketing unit out to convince their friends and neighbors to buy everything they are "modeling." Their boss is KC (LAUREN HUTTON), who shows up from time to time to give each of the Joneses a progress report on sales in the local community as a result of their efforts.

Look a little closer, and even the "Joneses" are not the cold-hearted corporate shills they sell themselves as. Steve is really a wounded-heart romantic who has missed his opportunity to be a husband and father. Kate has planned out her career so thoroughly that she has forgotten to plan out her life. Jenn, shoehorned into her role as a teenager, seeks the sexual pleasure of older men. And Mick is really a closet homosexual.

Their marketing eventually becomes too effective when bad things start to happen to their friends and acquaintances, most notably next-door neighbors Larry and Summer (GARY COLE and GLENNE HEADLY), caught up in their high-stakes game of monkey-see/monkey-do.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Here is the case of a movie coming so close to greatness, it actually hurts a little. "The Joneses" features one of the most promising set-ups to a film in quite some time. A seemingly perfect couple and their two teenage kids move into an exclusive gated community and quickly become the envy of the neighborhood. Dad and husband Steve (David Duchovny) drives a cool car, makes a lot of money, swings a mean golf club, and just seems to have it all together. Wife and mom Kate (Demi Moore) wears the trendiest fashions, knows how to throw the best parties, and makes the yummiest appetizers and cocktails. Siblings Mick and Jenn (Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard) are immediately the envy of the local high school with their clothes, gadgets, and good looks.

In reality, though, the Jones are not a real family at all but a stealth marketing unit inserted into the community to drive sales of cars, clothes, sunglasses, and food. They have monthly sales quotas and work to please their enigmatic boss, KC (Lauren Hutton). Kate dreams of reaching "Icon" status at the company. Steve is on his first assignment as a patriarch and wants to do well. Mick and Jenn are just along for the kicks.

Writer and director Derrick Borte sets you up for a grand dark comedy that promises to exploit America's consumer culture. This could have been one of those flicks with edge and wit, following a group of cads out to bilk the rich a la "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." Or it could have been one of those flicks like "Election" about deeply flawed people that only gets richer and funnier the more the characters deceive themselves.

Unfortunately, Borte goes the soft route. He doesn't want to step on toes here. He doesn't want the film to take too harsh a look at its characters or at the world. He likes Steve, Kate, Mick, and Jenn too much. He turns Steve into a wounded-heart romantic who wants to settle down with Kate after showing her the emptiness of the life she has lived. He turns Kate into a tired stereotype of the career woman who has gained the world and lost her soul. The most promising subplot -- Mick having to hide both his job and his sexuality -- is given the barest minimum screen time. And poor Jenn is just a promiscuous type who falls in love with a married man only after trying to seduce Steve.

I appreciate that Borte tries to show that there are real consequences to such sneaky actions on the part of corporations and marketing groups. But I'd rather he had done it with a more critical eye, a sharper wit, a more sardonic edge.

For instance, why declaw Steve and Kate and make them rom-com clichés? Why not have them fall for each other as they vie throughout the film for the company's "Icon" status (akin to the airline elite status George Clooney seeks throughout "Up in the Air")? Why not give some depth and texture to the Jenn and Mick subplots by making them adults who still look like teens and the problems of conscience they have as underage kids follow their every move? It's never clearly spelled out if the two are in fact teenagers or really young-looking adults.

The film is very well-acted. This was THE cast to execute a great adult comedy of manners that also takes a critical look at 21st-century consumer society. A couple of supporting performances by Gary Cole and Glenne Headly as the Jones' envious neighbors nicely straddles the line between broad parody and insightful character study. The elements were all there. Borte just didn't know whether he wanted to be nasty or nice. He tries to have it both ways and comes up short on both counts.

Because this film falls right in the middle, so does my rating. I give "The Joneses" a 5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed April 13, 2010 / Posted April 16, 2010

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