Mobies: The Joneses * * *
The general consensus is that, at 47, Demi Moore has never looked better, and her marriage to Ashton Kutcher has turned a time-honoured Hollywood cliché on its head. Good luck to her, but what of her film career? Ms Moore's career disappeared down the toilet in the mid-90s following a string of disasters (Striptease, GI Jane).
In fairness, she was busy with the children, and in 2003 she mounted something of a mini-comeback playing a villain in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.
She impressed many as an alcoholic singer in Emilio Estevez's ensemble drama Bobby in 2006, but since then there has been so little of note that she risks being described as an A-list celebrity and occasional actress.
In The Joneses, though, she gets to sink her teeth into a rare role of reasonable substance as the mother of a seemingly perfect family. And, in fact, the debut feature from writer/director Derrick Borte has more than Ms Moore to offer, from a winning sense of humour to a premise that throws up some interesting sociological questions.
There's more than a touch of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone to The Joneses' central thesis, but a streak of black comedy stops it from becoming too po-faced.
Moore is Kate Jones, a glamorous middle-aged mother whose family causes quite a stir when they move to a wealthy suburban neighbourhood. Her husband Steve (David Duchovny) is a scratch golfer and easy-going charmer who soon becomes a kind of idol among the local men.
Their teenage children Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) are beautiful and affable and become the stars of their respective schools. Kate is a similar hit, and so popular do The Joneses become that people start to crave the cars, clothes, gadgets and gizmos that the family casually sport. They seem like the perfect modern American family, and their neighbours find themselves unconsciously but desperately striving to imitate them.
In fact, they're not a family at all, but a bunch of strangers hired by a marketing company to look like one. 'Kate' and 'Steve' and their two 'kids' are salespeople of sorts, whose job is to entice a community into the idealised lifestyle they're purveying and buy the new cars and phones and golf clubs the stealth marketing company is covertly pushing.
Kate is a seasoned campaigner, and it's to her that boss KC (Lauren Hutton) comes for regular progress updates. But Steve is relatively new to the game, and soon begins to have misgivings. He buddies up, as he's supposed to, with his affable neighbour Larry (Garry Cole), but when Larry begins getting out of his depth financially in an effort to literally keep up with the Joneses, Steve is unhappy.
He has also begun to have feelings for his fictional wife, and while the icily professional Kate is initially resistant, her softening to Steve's advances threatens to jeopardise the whole endeavour.
Borte's intentions are pretty clear here. He has worked in advertising, and uses this only slightly outlandish marketing ploy to examine the nature of consumerism and our insatiable lust for 'things'. Nowhere is this insane craving more evident than in suburban America's 'McMansion' culture, where people consider a neighbour's shiny new car as both an affront and a challenge. The logical consequences of all this are laid bare in The Joneses, though paradoxically I did spot a few product placements along the way.
Happily, though, Mr Borte doesn't restrict himself to this dry thesis, and his film also contemplates the family unit, its sanctity and the constant threats and pressures it faces. In this, as with its larger themes, The Joneses doesn't delve half deep enough, but nonetheless it's a smart and thought-provoking film, and Moore and Duchovny are both excellent.
The instinct towards family runs deep, and even this marketing clan start forgetting they're fake. When Mick is caught kissing the wrong person and provokes a car crash, Steve stands in the hall, shakes his head and mutters: "Where did we go wrong?"