DVD Review: Since the end of The X-Files, David Duchovny has cultivated a sort of soulful sleaze, especially in Showtime’s Californication. That mix of a seedy insincerity and a jaded search for honesty serves the actor well alongside Demi Moore in The Joneses, a little-too-on-the-nose satire of our status-consumption society.
The Joneses (as in “keeping up with…”) has its satiric heart and aim in the right place: Too many of us buy too much expensive, trendy crap just to appear one sexy, cool step ahead of our peers. However, while the film is written and directed well enough by Derrick Borte, it goes after its very broad, vague target with not a lot of precision or originality.
Duchovny and Moore play “stealth marketers” posing as the upscale heads of the “perfect, cool, rich” suburban family. They’re secret salespeople hired by a marketing firm to move into a trendy, gated community (all golf-courses and day spas) and show off expensive status-symbol toys, treats, and tennis shoes to the locals, thus driving up regional “gotta have that” sales.
It’s a catchy premise, one that goes at the well-deserved target of our consumer society, where athletes, musicians, stars, and other icons of sex and power lead us by our wallets down the primrose path to massive credit-card dept. Of course, the film’s timing is a bit off—as we limp through the second year of an economic whatever-you-want-to-call-it, few of us need reminding of the evils of buying things you can’t really afford.
Still, The Joneses is shored up by the presence of Duchovny and Moore, as well as by Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth as their “children” (as dysfunctional as they are artificial). Plus Gary Cole and Glenne Headly are always a welcome addition to any film, in this case playing the Joneses’ desperately seeking status neighbors.
The film doesn’t have a whole lot new to say, but like its too-perfect sham family, it looks very nice not saying it. That gives The Joneses a thematic flaw similar to that of the recent theatrical comedy Lottery Ticket: It preaches against materialism and the evils of believing money and things can bring happiness, but is more than happy to entertain us with a parade of dazzling surface trappings, from video games and golf clubs to hors d’œuvres and sports cars.
Of course, as the characters learn, there are always consequences to such crass yearnings. But at least The Joneses lets us indulge in a little satiric (if cliché) eat-the-rich schadenfreude while still coveting our cinematic neighbors’ toys.