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Keeping up with the Joneses

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A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I had to sit through Masterminds — an unfunny Zach Galifianakis movie that was so bad, we left when it still had 15 minutes to go. We didn’t want to waste another minute of our time.

Galifianakis was an amazing stand-up, but he does so many bad comedies. And when I saw he was going to be the annoying neighbor living next to Jon Hamm and the new Wonder Woman — Gal Gadot — I thought about the time Zach teamed with Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. That movie was Due Date, and I only laughed a few times in that. Since this was being directed by Greg Mottola, who got enough laughs out of me in Superbad…and who directed two comedies that are vastly underrated — Adventureland and Paul — I was hoping for the best.

We’ve seen this set-up before. New, mysterious people (Hamm and Gadot) move into the cul de sac, and the neighbors (Galifianakis and Isla Fisher of Wedding Crasher) start spying on the spies (no “spoiler alert” needed there, as the commercials want you to know that’s the premise).

This comes at the perfect time for the Gaffney’s. Their kids have gone to a camp for three weeks, and they figured they’d use this time to have crazy sex, in every room in the house. Or…they could watch The Good Wife undisturbed (which provided the first of, surprisingly many, big laughs).

Fisher is soon on to these new neighbors, as they seem rather nosy snooping around their house, and wondering about Zach’s job at an aerospace defense corporation.

One thing that made this movie work was the same thing that made Central Intelligence work. Instead of them using a manic Kevin Hart, his character was toned down to be the straight man. Galifianakis is that here, although he does have a few scenes where his craziness surfaces. One of those is some good physical comedy working in human resources; another is at an Asian restaurant that serves snakes.

The movie also had a lot of interesting set-pieces.

As sexy as Gadot is (we see her and Fisher trying on lingerie together), I’ve now seen her in a few movies, and she doesn’t seem to be that great an actress. Luckily, being a master thespian probably isn’t required to play a superhero.

It was a pleasant surprise that they didn’t go for the easy jokes. This wasn’t about suburban neighbors having a crappy existence while the spies hang out at hookah lounges in Marrakech. It’s also nice that it wasn’t about Galifianakis drooling every time he saw Gadot walk by.

That doesn’t mean this is a perfect movie. I just felt I laughed enough that this wasn’t a waste of my time. As my girlfriend said when we were leaving, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

That might not sound like the most ringing endorsement, but when you’ve seen so many comedies that go down the same paths — all I ask for is that you do a farce with enough laughs. This had enough.

It gets 3 stars out of 5.