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Little value in The Family'

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The Family The Family
Film much less than the sum of its parts

Sometimes, you look at a film and you can just tell that it isn't going to work, no matter how impeccable the pedigree of the people involved.
 
For instance, if someone were to say that Luc Besson was going to direct and co-write a Mafia action comedy starring Robert DeNiro ('Killing Season'), Michelle Pfeiffer ('People Like Us') and Tommy Lee Jones ('Men in Black 3') and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, you'd probably think that that had a chance to be a pretty good movie.
And you'd be wrong.

'The Family' stars DeNiro and Pfeiffer as Giovanni and Maggie Manzoni. Giovanni turned snitch on the members of the Luchese crime family, thus requiring the Manzonis to enter witness protection. Gio and Maggie  along with daughter Belle (Dianna Agron, TV's 'Glee') and son Warren (John D'Leo, 'Wanderlust') - are currently living in the south of France under the watchful auspices of FBI agent Robert Stansfield (Jones). They have recently been relocated to Normandy and are now living as the Blakes.

Oh, and Giovanni is writing his memoirs for some reason.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard. The erstwhile Blakes have real trouble keeping their respective noses clean, with each member of the family falling back into the old, identifiable patterns that draw attention to them and put the whole clan in danger. And the leader of the Luchese family has never stopped looking for Gio to exact revenge  even from a prison cell. There's a $20 million bounty on Gio's head, after all  that sort of money causes some unsavory sorts to pay close attention. And when a convoluted series of events puts the family in the crosshairs, they have to come together and find a way to save themselves from the incredible dangers that surround them.

No matter how many ways I try to look at this movie, the numbers don't add up. The tonal shifts are so numerous and jarring that it's fairly difficult to even classify this film. Is it a comedy? There are moments of levity, but it also gets bleakly humorless at times. Is it an action movie? There are some explosions and gunfights, but also a lot of sedentary scenes. Everything is so jumbled that much of the time, you aren't even sure what kind of movie Besson thought he was making.

DeNiro is DeNiro; frankly, he needs to stop with the Mafia stuff. We're so oversaturated with mob stuff from him that it plays like parody whenever he steps into that world, regardless of how serious he's taking it. Pfeiffer is actually quite good; her performance feels unforced and she seems to be aging well. The two kids are good as well; the roles are a bit more nuanced than you might expect, and while neither of their subplots winds up going anywhere, they do nice work. Jones as a sour, humorless FBI guy is almost as dull a typecast as DeNiro-as-mobster; it's fine, it just isn't all that interesting anymore.

On paper, 'The Family' probably looked legit. You've got a writer/director in Besson who has the sensibility to bring comedy and action together and a cast with the bona fide chops to handle just about anything. The pieces should fit together. But they don't.

There are a few funny jokes and a couple of solid action sequences; there's even a liberal dash of absurdity to shake things up. But 'The Family' ultimately suffers due to its utter lack of commitment to a direction. Even dark comedy finds ways to inject humor into the bleakest moments; 'The Family' simply expects you to shift your perspective and wait until the jokes start again. In the end, it just isn't nearly as good as it should be.

[2 out of 5]

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