There's something about The Joneses. Their two-parent, two-teenager nuclear-family perfection — complete with shiny teeth and sexy, toned bodies — would be intimidating, if they weren't so cool, so casual.
It's as if they're designed to fit in, to succeed, to become role models.
Are they Coneheads? Vampires from Forks?
Worse. They're marketers, cunning "plants" cast for their ability to earn envy and show off Lacoste or Yves Saint Laurent fashions, Audi sports cars, Ethan Allen furnishings and every manner of flat-screen TV, golf accessory, perfume, earring or beer known to American capitalism. Their "unit" sells, and it looks darned attractive doing it.
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"If people want you," their handler (Lauren Hutton, commanding) explains, "they'll want what you've got."
Soon, through the "ripple effect" of stealth-viral marketing, everybody in their new town is racing to keep up with the Joneses.
Writer-director Derrick Borte's sly satire benefits from on-the-nose casting. Who wouldn't love looking like Demi Moore or David Duchovny, or if you're in high school, Amber Heard? They play the actors whom a super-secret marketing company plants in a gated community in an unnamed affluent suburb. Kate (Moore) is the boss, on task, getting those sales numbers up. No dinner party in their perfect mansion would be perfect without a plug for this beer or those heat-and-serve burritos or flash-frozen bites of sushi.
Duchovny is Steve, "Dad" to Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Heard). Steve is enthusiastic but new to this business. He still has a conscience. He's a veteran salesman who's a little bothered by the way the locals lap up their subtle showcasing of products, especially their gullible neighbors (Gary Cole and cosmetics cultist Glenne Headly). Jenn and Mick, working the high-school crowd, have even trickier ethics to ignore.
Borte's film sets us up for a fairly predictable payoff. For a satire that could have been a "scathing satire," this is a pretty low-wattage affair. The actors are wonderful (Demi and Duchovny "keep this professional" and do their finest work in ages), but there's little edge, and the laughs are more chuckles as we watch one and all start copying the cool, trendy new family in town.
Still, as cautionary tales about consumerism go, The Joneses manages a deft blend of the sexy, the sad and the silly. And Borte doles out his secrets and surprises in ways that make it easy to keep up with these Joneses.