September 22, 2013

The Family (2013)

"The Manzoni family, a notorious mafia clan, is relocated to Normandy, France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard."

As I haven't done a "Surprise Sunday" review for months, I decided to watch this new movie by Luc Besson. I'm not sure whether to describe it as a dark comedy or a hybrid of light comedy and seriously violent drama, so it fits into my "uncategorisable" label quite nicely.

You can probably guess from the title and its star that "The Family" is a mafia movie. I would be an idiot to say that Robert De Niro has been typecast ever since "The Godfather: Part II" (1974), but he's so famous for playing gangsters in "The Untouchables" (1987), "Goodfellas" (1990), "Casino" (1995), and even "Analyze This" (1999) that such roles make him an ideal choice for yet another mafia-centric story, especially if you want it to be some kind of parody. He's 70 years old now, by the way, but with the magic of the movies, hair-dye and make-up, he has a few flashback scenes which amazingly manage to knock 10 or 20 years off.

Casting according to type and previous fame also provides Tommy Lee Jones with another special agent character much like Samuel Gerard from "The Fugitive" (1993) and its sequel, and Michelle Pfeiffer has an opportunity to be a GILF rather than a MILF. The years have clearly been a lot kinder to Michelle Pfeiffer than Tommy Lee Jones, but he is 12 years older than her and looks it. It's such a shame that we have to get older.

How and why a filmmaker like Luc Besson couldn't find any actors in a more appropriate age range for "The Family" is debatable, although I'd hazard a guess that he just decided to use these big names to sell his lacklustre movie instead of looking for new talent. However, as the kids are played by 27-year-old Dianne Agron and 18-year-old John D'Leo—who are also too old for their parts—maybe it's meant to be a comedic theme.

French people have very strange and dated ideas about what's funny; Jerry Lewis is still one of their comedy icons for some inexplicable reason. Thus, there's much sport made of French attitudes to Americans and vice versa (a la "National Lampoon's European Vacation"), and their entertainment tastes are lampooned with a Film Club who wish to have a debate over the Dean Martin drama "Some Came Running" (1958). The latter is a convenient Frank Sinatra and mafia tie-in as well which then pushes the metafiction element a little too far by being replaced on the night by "Goodfellas". Maybe that'll seem funnier to everyone else after another 20 years.

As a throwaway piece of light entertainment to pass the time, "The Family" isn't a bad movie, but you might expect more from the big names involved than what they deliver. Robert De Niro is naturally good-natured, but I've never found him particularly funny, and Michelle Pfeiffer is awkward playing a character who looks like she should really be a thirty-something. The kids do okay in their highschool subplots, and given the terrible script which they had to work with, nobody turns in a performance to be ashamed of, but this is far from their finest hour.

Constant changes in tone don't help matters much either. The extremely violent action scenes and deaths don't gel with the light-heartedness, and the comedy is only mildy amusing in a bad '80s kind of way to begin with. I'm not a fan of comedies, so you can take any opinion I may have with a pinch of salt, but nothing in "The Family" is side-splittingly hilarious unless you're very easily pleased.

If I had to give "The Family" a numerical rating, it would be 3 out of 10 for the flashback scenes, Robert De Niro's sadistic daydreams, and the over-the-top gunfight at the end. It'll be worth a Redbox rental when it comes out on DVD, but it's not worth paying $12 or more for a cinema ticket to see something which will be in Walmart's bargain bin after Christmas.

A comedy? The poster makes it look like a horror movie!

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