With an estimated production cost of $40M before P&A, Fox 2000’s Keeping Up With the Joneses may not go down as the biggest box office disaster of all-time, but the film is a disaster nonetheless with an estimated opening of $5.6M this weekend.
Booked at 3,022 locations, Joneses is one of the lowest debuts for a saturated theater count of that size. Though billed as an ensemble comedy, Joneses comes as the second misfire for its Hangover star Zach Galifianakis, four weekends after his other PG-13 comedy Masterminds bombed with a $6.5M opening and current running cume of $17M.
Masterminds was a casualty of Relativity’s bankruptcy woes and was forced to sit on a shelf (the worst fate that can tarnish any comedy film) for a year. This created a situation where there was a misalignment in the film’s marketing with its ad campaign broken up between last summer and this year. In addition, the film’s release date change created a challenge for its all-star cast to promote the movie as they moved on to other priorities in their datebooks.
Joneses’ fail is different, largely the result of mismatched stars, an indie comedy director, and big producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald aboard an attempted broad comedy.
On the surface, many rivals believe that Fox 2000 bailed on Joneses. Fox moved the comedy off its April 1 release date –where it was the only studio wide release– and relocated it to one of the most competitive frames on the calendar against three other wide entries, including a Tom Cruise film, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. However, the release date change stemmed from Fox sending Joneses back for reshoots. And sources tell us that if Fox truly didn’t care about the fate of Joneses, they would have never sent the film back into production.
Joneses follows the story of a suburban couple (Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) who learn that their new neighbors (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) are government spies and become involved in their shenanigans. At its heart, the film was attempting to be a broad comedy in the spirit of Meet the Parents with a satirical commentary on marriage and the seven-year itch. “The most successful comedies are typically handled by those with singular voices. Think Adam McKay, Judd Apatow or Todd Phillips. Only then, can you guarantee that there will be solid results,” one source tells us. In the case of Joneses, there was a soft-spoken, indie comedy director Greg Mottola who is known for such offbeat pics as The Daytrippers, Adventureland and helming TV episodes of Arrested Development and The Newsroom. Mottola’s biggest hit on his resume was the $170M-grossing teen comedy Superbad, however, some attribute that pic’s breakout success to its producer Apatow and EP/scribes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Mottola is paired here with legacy producers and former DreamWorks executives Parkes and MacDonald who’ve shepherded such tentpoles as Men in Black, Gladiator and Deep Impact, and the result of Joneses wasn’t so singular-voiced anymore, rather a “patchwork comedy” per one insider; the worst case scenario of a comedy being made by a committee. “The studio kept encouraging to go broader, always asking ‘Where’s my trailer moment?'” adds the source further pointing out the ad spot’s cheap thrills, “Somebody falls three times in the trailer.” In fact, we heard that during production Mottola and Parkes re-wrote parts of the movie and avoided telling each other.
In the end, Joneses wound up being a project that’s softer than what we’re accustomed to seeing absurdist Galifianakis in, who post Hangover has made B.O. high marks when paired with riotous R-rated material, visionary directors and appropriate comedy co-stars, i.e. with Robert Downey, Jr. in Due Date ($32.7M opening, $100.5M domestic) Will Ferrell in The Campaign ($26.6M, $86.9M), and Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner for Schmucks ($23.7M, $73M). Joneses and Masterminds aren’t indications that Galifianakis’ box office star is falling. Like Robin Williams he’s extremely talented, and comedic talent always rises to the top and endures the ups and downs at the multiplex. Joneses is just a situation of an ineptly paired comedy with co-stars. Gadot is known more for being Wonder Woman than a wiseneheimer. And Emmy-winning Mad Men Jon Hamm hasn’t found that script yet which will break him out as a feature film star; his last effort Disney’s Million Dollar Arm bit the dust at the domestic B.O. with $36.5M. TV Academy voters take Hamm seriously for his funny bone lauding him for guest turns on 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but movie ticket buyers aren’t lining up yet. According to CinemaScore, slightly more moviegoers cited Galifianakis and co-stars Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as the reason why they bought tickets to Masterminds (37%) then the Hangover star’s attachment with Hamm (28%). Those who braved watching both comedies gave the leading actors a B.
Joneses initially tested in the high 70s/low 80s and it was then that the film was sent back for reshoots to make it broader and clarify plot points. This was a decision we understand that was made by the studio and the producers. The whole idea behind scheduling Joneses on an October release date against three other solid wide releases stemmed from counterprogamming Jack Reacher 2 as an alternative choice for date night couples, with a slight tug on women. According to CinemaScore that’s who showed up with 54% women, 46% guys, and 74% over 25. Joneses received the same grade as Masterminds: a listless B-. Furthermore, Fox intended Joneses to be that sleeper comedy a la their spring 2010 hit Date Night ($98.7M) which might thrive in the pre-holiday period.
In the end, the biggest nail in Joneses’ coffin for many is “That it’s just not that funny” per one rival major studio distribution executive. “The comedy is as unoriginal as the title,” snarked one critic to me at the Jack Reacher 2 all-media screening last week. How bad is Joneses? So bad that New York Times critic Ben Kenigsberg indicated to audiences that they’re better off staying at home in their living rooms.
Slammed the film reviewer, “One way to end the scourge of ‘TV is better than film’ articles is to stop making movies like Keeping Up With the Joneses, a pedestrian comedy that almost seems intended as evidence for the cause.”