The Joneses

Writer/Director: Derrick Borte
Starring: Demi Moore, David Duchovny
Review: 4 stars (of five)

The Joneses starts out as a sharp satire on consumerism and the American lust for status via things, then descends into a skewed romantic comedy that plays its cliches and familiar beats close to the vest, managing to feel fresh most of the time, even if the loss of the satire is a bit of a letdown.

First-time writer/director Derrick Borte wants to grab the consumer-culture zeitgeist by the throat and shake it around for us. He starts off solidly, but gets caught up in his characters’ struggles rather than any kind of pointed observations or message. Instead of a film about who we are as a society, we get a film about David Duchovny and the weird situation he finds himself in.

Fortunately, David Duchovny and his weird situation are decent stuff. The skill of this film is that it captures us with its premise, doles out surprises and new developments at an engaging pace, and has a better than 50-50 shot of carrying us right over its weaker parts.

David Duchovny and Demi Moore play a couple that aren’t really a couple, and their chemistry is perfect. You like these two together, but most of the time it doesn’t quite click, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Each is interesting, as well, in pursuit of their individual and sometimes conflicting agendas. I think the standard reaction is to root for Duchovny, but you root for Moore, as well, and she’s completely engaging in a role that’s slightly underwritten and could have been offputting.

The kids in their picture perfect family, Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth, are the personification of sexy-cool social drivers of any upscale high school. Surprising as the character who gives the film the most heart is Gary Cole, the insufferable manager from Office Space, as a neighbor who befriends Duchovny.

The film is worth seeing, and is best enjoyed as a low-key romantic comedy with some zeitgeisty goodness, rather than a radical dissection or satire of an aspect of culture. Office Space, for instance, never lost track of its mission to set the cubicle farm of America ablaze.

No real spoilers, I promise: The film is weakened by its ending, which feels forced. About two minutes before the movie ends, Duchovny turns over a piece of property that doesn’t belong to him and walks out of the scene. If the film had ended right there, and had been written with that ending in mind, it would’ve been way better. Feel free to walk out of the theater, or turn off the DVD player, at that point.