MOVIE REVIEW: Picture perfect: No one is who they seem in 'The Joneses'

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

The Joneses (R)

2 1/2 stars out of 4

If "The Joneses" had come out prior to the start of the recession in 2007, its message would probably be viewed in an entirely different light. Between 2003 and 2006 most of America behaved like many of the characters in this film and they would have likely considered the movie's morality play posturing irrelevant or way off base. What a difference a downturn makes.

Not quite the con artist movie it would like to be, it recalls bits of the original version of "The Stepford Wives," "The Truman Show" and "American Beauty" minus the satire. For a solid hour it goes far in pointing out the obvious regarding human behavior but does so with sneaky, effortless cunning.

It opens with the Jones family moving into a tastefully oversized home on the grounds of the Country Club of the South in Alpharetta. Even though neither parent seems to have a job, they have everything a model-beautiful, nuclear family could possibly want and then some.

Without coming close to breaking a sweat, all four family members weave themselves snuggly throughout the fabric of their unsuspecting neighbors' lives. In no time at all, everybody wants what the Joneses have.

It won't be giving too much away by letting you know that nobody in the family is named Jones and none of them are related to each other. They're all employees of a giant marketing company and are paid to perform the most sophisticated method of product placement. Group leader Kate (Demi Moore) handles the food and beauty aids, Steve (David Duchovny) takes care of the manly stuff (sports equipment, gadgets, hardware) while teens Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Amber Heard) push video games and accessories.

All four characters are given back stories by director Derrick Borte and co-writer Randy T. Dinzler, but only two of them amount to much and while succeeding on a narrative level, they actually detract from the main story.

A lot of time is also wasted on the sex lives of Mick and Jenn and seem to be included only to up an unnecessary sleaze factor. The story would have been much richer and rewarding if more time was lavished on the Joneses' financially-strapped next-door neighbors (Gary Cole and Glenne Headly, both playing against type).

Borte and Dinzler perform a great service by presenting the audience with huge moral quandaries. Is it acceptable or even legal to identify yourself to others with a false identity? Is showing your neighbors your possessions without asking them to make purchases morally questionable? Are you a bad person if you perpetuate wealth-envy? Is being rich a sin?

Unfortunately, the filmmakers answer all of these questions themselves in the film's jarringly ill-fitting final scenes and turn what could have been a wickedly dark black comedy into a mushy/depressing mixed-bag drama with a sell-out ending.

On the upside, this is Duchovny's finest hour as an actor. Moore has never looked as gorgeous as she does in this film. She is one of those rare humans who actually gets better looking as she ages.

Borte and cinematographer Yaron Orbach meticulously frame the film and make Alpharetta (and parts of Roswell) look like Beverly Hills. The scenery is utterly jaw-dropping. Even when the story tanks and a couple of the characters go off the deep end, North Georgia remains picture-perfect. (Roadside Attractions)