Friday, December 20, 2013

Movie Review: The Family

The Family
Directed by: Luc Besson.
Written by: Luc Besson and Michael Caleo based on the book by Tonino Benacquista.
Starring: Robert De Niro (Fred Blake / Giovanni Manzoni), Michelle Pfeiffer (Maggie Blake), Dianna Agron (Belle Blake), John D'Leo (Warren Blake), Tommy Lee Jones (Robert Stansfield), Jimmy Palumbo (Di Cicco), Domenick Lombardozzi (Caputo), Stan Carp (Don Luchese), Vincent Pastore (Fat Willy), Jon Freda (Rocco).

Luc Besson was once a reliable action filmmaker – with films such as La Femme Nikita (1990), The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997) on his resume – all of which are visually stunning and extremely entertaining. Somewhere along the way though, he seems to have lost his touch – it started with his misguided Joan of Arc film, The Messenger – and continued with three animated Arthur and the Invisibles movies (of which, I have only seen the first) and his rather dull angel film Angel-A. To a certain extent, it makes sense for him to team up with Robert DeNiro – who was once one of the best actors in the world, who has been slumming it for more than a decade now, with the occasional The Good Shepherd or Stone or Silver Linings Playbook to give us fans a glimpse of the actor he once was. The two of them teaming up to make a Mafia movie sounds like good idea to get them both back on track. Sadly, The Family seems like just another paycheque for both.

DeNiro stars as Giovanni Manzoni, once a high ranking Mafia man, who turned stool pigeon and entered witness protection with his family – wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and kids Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo). They are now living in France with the boring name of Blake – and much to the chagrin of their handler Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), they keep getting into trouble and have to be relocated. The Mafia still wants Giovanni’s head – a $20 million bounty has been placed on it – and they are scouring Europe to find them.

The film is essentially a fish out of water comedy, with the brash New York Mafia family running afoul of everyone in their small, provincial French town. The Blakes don’t do anything quietly – and they do not handle rejection well – if you insult Maggie for wanting to buy peanut butter, she just may blow up your little grocery store. If you’re a plumber who tells Giovanni something he doesn’t want to hear, you’ll end up in the hospital. Even the kids behave badly – as Belle sets her sights on an older teacher, and Warren starts his own racket right there in high school.

The problem with The Family is that it wants to be a comedy – but it quite simply isn’t very funny. To give DeNiro credit, he doesn’t seem to be sleepwalking through the film like he has often done in the recent past – he’s trying, and he has a few good moments (discussing GoodFellas with a French audience is a highlight), but this is another role that doesn’t really challenge DeNiro – doesn’t force him out of his comfort zone. The rest of the cast are basically playing stereotypes – one note characters who are not given much to do. Pfeiffer and Jones are pretty much wasted – which is a shame, because at least the film gives DeNiro a chance to play with his Mafia image a little bit (even if he’s returned to that well a little too often) – but the film misses the chance to play with the Pfeiffer of Scarface or Married to the Mob or the Jones of The Fugitive. When you have actors this good, it’s a shame to waste them – but the movie does.
Of course the film ends with an action climax – which is well handled by Besson, but also a little too by-the-numbers. Besson did some of the best action sequences of the 1990s, and while he hasn’t completely lost his touch, it does feel like he’s going through the motions. In fact, that is what the entire film feels like – a one joke comedy that doesn’t really go anywhere, and wasn’t that funny the first time.

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