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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad88.89%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Family, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Gets to a position of not giving a damn that usually takes two movies."
2 stars

"The Family" plays like the ill-conceived sequel to a Robert De Niro/Tommy Lee Jones crime comedy that, since the whole thing is hypothetical anyway, we'll assume would have been entertaining. It's got all the hallmarks - a story that seems to pick up after the end of another, Jones looking like he doesn't want to be there and negotiated only having to be on set a few days, and DeNiro coasting on what audiences remember.

As the result of the events of that hypothetical first movie, former mobster Giovanni Manzoni (De Niro) and his family - wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), and son Warren (John D'Leo) - are in the Witness Protection program, although they're apparently too hot to be placed anywhere in America, and have wound up in France. Things got too hot in their last spot, so now they're in a small Normandy town as "Fred Blake" and family. Of course, a Brooklyn gangster and his family are going to stand out, so while they have trouble blending in, Gio's former associates are busy hunting him down.

In order to get to the point of a showdown, though, The Family has to kill some time, and somewhere between Tonino Benacquista and Luc Besson & Michael Caleo (who adapted Benacquista's novel Malavita), they forgot to give the characters anything interesting to do. There's some potential fun to be had from letting Warren and Belle - who are very much their parents' children - loose on a small-town school (which could be anywhere, as language barriers never rear their heads in this movie), but their stories never quite take off. Maggie hangs out with the FBI guys assigned to watch them because she feels unwelcome everywhere else, and Gio splits his time between half-heartedly writing his memoirs and trying to figure out why his water's brown using threats and violence because he's a gangster. Despite this not being a sequel, there's no time spent on how Gio came to turn rat, so instead most of the movie has sitcom plots. There's probably a good television comedy to be made from this situation, but as a movie, the individual bits aren't funny enough and don't build to anything in particular.

The movie does eventually reach it's finale, though, and that's got big problems, most notably a sort of split personality. On the one hand, as soon as the assassins get off the plane in Normandy, it feels like Luc Besson has finally seized on something he's good at. The killers are dressed in black and drive black cars and just look in general like the exaggerated image of mafiosi that would spring from a bande dessinée, and that sort of comic-book influence has been a fun part of Besson-directed films over the past fifteen years. He starts getting interesting shots, the action is well-conceived and executed, and while he does tend to leave some characters off-screen for too long, the jumping around works better here than it does earlier, where his attempt to make every transition a clever one doesn't work nearly as well as it did in The Fifth Element. On the other hand, the violence gets to be too much - even if what had come before didn't work particularly well as a comedy, it still felt like one, and when so many generally harmless or anonymous characters are getting shot with little hint of dark humor to them, it's not fun or exciting. It's just going through the motions, although Besson does those particular motions as well as anybody.

Maybe if he was just doing this as a French film with francophone actors, everyone from writers to cast to audience would be on the same wavelength, but he's got a bunch of American movie stars who don't exactly seem to share his sensibilities. De Niro, for instance, seems to be exerting minimum effort, letting all the other gangsters he's played carry the load. He seems a little more animated in dreams and flashbacks, but when "Fred" has to be in the here and now, there's not much there. One hopes that Tommy Lee Jones made enough here to finance that western he's planning to direct, because for all that grumpy Tommy Lee Jones elicits an almost reflexive smile from me, he's actually not as funny as his character's underlings. Jimmy Palumbo and Domenick Lombardozzi at least get to have some good scenes with Michelle Pfeiffer, who may be laying the accent on thick but sticks out for actually trying to play a character here. Some praise is also due to Dianna Agron and John D'Leo, who dive into their basic but at least energetic characters and give them enough life that one wishes the entire movie was about them. That they get to play the rare cinematic teen siblings who actually like each other doesn't hurt.

For the most part, though, "The Family" feels like a movie missing its set-up where everybody involved is there out of a sense of obligation. That's a really strange feeling to get from a non-sequel, although I suppose that it could just be that what seemed like good fits and good matches on paper just didn't work out once the cameras started rolling. It's interesting that this allows less-heralded folks to steal the show, and just too bad that there's not much worth stealing.

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originally posted: 09/17/13 12:19:54
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User Comments

5/22/14 KC It was ok; Not the worst I've ever seen, not the best 3 stars
12/22/13 mr.mike The comedy and drama don't mix. 2.5 stars 2 stars
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  13-Sep-2013 (R)
  DVD: 17-Dec-2013


  DVD: 17-Dec-2013

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