The reason so many remakes fail is obvious: Attempting to “update” or merely revivify an established classic or box-office hit usually results in a pale facsimile. Wouldn’t it make more sense for remakes to seize on films that had a wealth of good ideas, but botched their execution? To that end, someone should really get around to remaking the soft-bellied satire The Joneses before its ingenious conceit of a “family” of viral marketers loses relevance. Given how people are already walking billboards for one brand or another, the only major difference between the characters in this film and their real-life counterparts is that the latter are conscious of what they’re selling. Writer-director Derrick Borte has a dark vision of maxed-out 21st-century suburbia where advertising is not only inescapable, but the essential fabric that bonds friends and family. What he lacks is follow-through.
A remake of The Joneses wouldn’t even have to alter the casting much. No one does smarm like David Duchovny, who epitomizes the smug vanity of eternal bachelor types, yet has the ability to make it seem like rakish likeability. He plays the head of The Joneses’ phony household, but also the least-experienced salesman of the bunch. His “wife,” played by Demi Moore, keeps Duchovny and their hip, good-looking teenage “children” (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth) on-message as they move into a new upper-middle-class neighborhood. Their job is to push a range of products by showing them off to their new friends, whether they’re the frozen appetizers that circulate at a house party or big-ticket items like a riding lawnmower, a big-screen TV, or a new sports car. But the pressure to sell takes its toll, as does the mounting expenses of people buying beyond their means.
The perverse dynamic within the fake family—the “daughter” (Amber Heard) unprofessionally slips into bed with daddy—gives the early scenes in The Joneses a satiric cold-bloodedness the film gradually fritters away. Borte also succeeds, for a time, in making the family’s lifestyle seem convincingly seductive: Why wouldn’t potential consumers be enticed by the products and gadgets that are bringing happiness to this impossibly glamorous bunch? The inevitable breakdown on this commercial façade might have led The Joneses into more disturbing territory, but Borte goes the other direction, away from jagged comedy and toward well-meaning homilies. No sale.