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David Duchovny, Demi Moore Can’t Keep Up With ‘The Joneses’

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CHICAGO – Introduced with one of the easier movie pundit headlines ever, “The Joneses” indeed cannot keep up with itself, despite a sharp script and the plausible efforts of David Duchovny and Demi Moore.

David Duchovny plays Steve Jones, the perfect modern father who practices his golf swing as much as his parenting. He is partnered with Demi Moore as Kate Jones, the sleek lady-who-lunches, with her finger on the pulse of the new town the Joneses have moved to, complete with their high school age children, Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth).

There is something odd about this family unit, with their perfect look and effortless material richness. Almost unfairly it seems, they have everything. But behind this mask of perfection is the awful truth – the Joneses are planted marketing hucksters, a fake family whose sole purpose is to “suggest” the latest and greatest products to their social climbing and merchandise accumulating upper middle class neighbors.

Duchovny’s Steve Jones is new to the suggestion game and has trouble adjusting to his false patriarchy. He finds himself attracted to his phony wife Kate, and has sympathy for the put-upon guy next door, Larry (Gary Cole). While his sales are initially lackluster, his competitive streak soon puts his numbers into the stratosphere, much to the chagrin of the ambitious Kate. Jenn and Mick, meanwhile, are having some troubles of their own adjusting to their high school characters beyond the product placements, and these small cracks in the facade may eventually blow everybody’s cover.

Picture Perfect: Ben Hollingsworth, Amber Heard, Demi Moore and David Duchovny in ‘The Joneses’
Picture Perfect: Ben Hollingsworth, Amber Heard, Demi Moore and David Duchovny in ‘The Joneses’
Photo Credit: Gene Page for © 2010 Roadside Attractions

Duchovny is obviously right as the cool, detached Steve. He also has an interesting back story, that of a disgraced Arizona golf-pro-turned-car-salesman who had trouble keep away from the ladies. Why did he have to leave his home and go undercover? He wears this mask as if it fits perfectly, but his streak of humanity also makes him the most interesting, and the most vulnerable.

Demi Moore knows the plastic fantastic America, and performs smartly as Kate, understanding the role almost too succinctly. Even as her facade is infiltrated she still doesn’t seem penetrable, which is either rock solid acting or her own precise image control. It is perfect casting and thematically eerie at the same time.

The fake kids are chilling, as they foist upon their easily susceptible teenage peers the grossest and glitziest mountain of stuff. Hollingsworth and Heard handle both the ideal crooked smiles of shiny youth and the cracks in their cover. How pertinent that they could be brought down simply through sexual intuition, and that besides instinctual survival is the overriding urge that is hardest to control.

It is Gary Cole as neighbor Larry that represents the reality of this depicted American dream turned nightmare. Obsessed with perfect Steve and his shiny new things, he ignores the mounting debt and the nagging affirmations of his desperate wife (Glenne Headly). His edge of the knife performance is the highlight and heart of the film, a man drowning in his own insecurity and broken life. Writer and Director Derrick Borte places the whole dark side in Cole’s capable hands, and even places him into a direct tribute to the 1955 film, “Night of the Hunter.” Same implication, different motivation.

Setting the Scene: Gary Cole Consults with Director Derrick Borte in ‘The Joneses’
Setting the Scene: Gary Cole Consults with Director Derrick Borte in ‘The Joneses’
Photo Credit: Gene Page for © 2010 Roadside Attractions

Borte’s script begins as a sharp and direct shot over the bow of materialism. The Joneses are as fake as the promise of the products they subtly hawk, and the narrative is able to maintain this in a dark and appropriate sense all the way to near the conclusion. It is the impending relationship between Steve and Kate that threatens to soften the sharp corners of the story, and ironically it seems the film was test marketed to find the right note for the ending.

The realization that perhaps a societally sharp film about phony test marketers actually is test marketed, and that the feedback changes the film – making it easier to “consume” in the cinema marketplace – is about as mind blowing as any fiction in the universe. But like everyone striving to keep up with the Joneses, whether it be neighbor or space in a 30-screen multiplex, it is fittingly the American Way.

”The Joneses” opens everywhere April 16th. Featuring David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Gary Cole, Glenne Headly, Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard, directed by Derrick Borte. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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