Keeping up with these "Joneses" requires buying the name brands they so brazenly display.
One of the most irritating film trends of recent years is the relentless push for product placement. The recent romcom "Valentine's Day" smuggled in plugs for Apple, Toyota, Cadillac, Sony, Chanel and 50 other brands, according to the marketing website brandchannel.com. "Up in the Air" was financed in part by Hilton Hotels and American Airlines in exchange for screen time.
Now comes the most audacious example yet. "The Joneses" is a feature-length commercial wrapped in an anti-consumerist stealth-marketing satire.
Steve Jones (David Duchovny), his wife, Kate (Demi Moore), and their teenagers, Jennifer (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), are strikingly attractive tastemakers. As this "family" settles into their new McMansion in a country-club community, movers unload a sultan's trove of interior decor, top-shelf electronics, designer clothes and head-turning sports cars.
The Joneses quickly befriend the neighbors, hosting parties where they proudly display their brand-name toys. The Joneses, you see, are not a Gatsbyesque family at all, but a stealth sales unit. They are assigned to promote their clients' goods to unsuspecting friends, who in turn persuade others, creating "a ripple effect."
Since Steve wheels his co-workers into town with a cheery, "We're going to do some real damage here," and declares, "He who dies with the most toys wins," you are forewarned that things may not turn out well. When a neighbor drinks too much of the Joneses' materialist Kool-Aid and winds up at the bottom of a swimming pool, the ripple effect they make is not what they intended.
Duchovny and Moore share a smug, self-regarding onscreen presence that's well-suited to these roles. They are vacuous and bland, like personal shoppers whose smiles have been plastered on too long. Kate, a calculating careerist, has had a dozen previous assignments and does not sleep with her temporary husbands, much to Steve's chagrin.
In an amusing reversal, cougar extraordinaire Moore pitches a fit when their nubile "daughter" makes a play for Duchovny.
There's some poignant drama in the mix, too. As neighbors just barely holding on to their privileged lifestyle, Gary Cole and Glenne Headley are surprisingly moving secondary characters.
In the saw-that-coming finale, Steve develops a conscience, Kate reconsiders her aversion to actual family life, and the "kids" go through their own rites of passage. What should have been a razor-sharp comedy goes blunt as the story loses its nerve and devolves into a routine morality tale. The film asks welcome questions about what price we should be willing to pay for "the good life," but ultimately it can't close the deal.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186