‘The Family’ Review
It is no easier for me to report this than it is for you to hear it, but we're all adults and let's get real: Robert De Niro's name on a film project is now more a red flag of warning than a sign of quality. For every 'Silver Linings Playbook' there's a 'Big Wedding' or 'Righteous Kill' or a slapped-together piece of tone-deaf dross like 'The Family.'
De Niro is a Brooklyn mafioso (yeah, I won't blame you if you just quietly slip out now) living under FBI custody in France. Why France? Because director Luc Besson has a cash-rich new production studio in France, be quiet.
He and his olive oil-cookin' wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, who studied Edie Falco's North Jersey accent with great gusto) were hiding with the kids on the Riviera, but when things got too hot they had to bug out to a quiet berg in the more provincial north.
By "too hot" this means that De Niro got angry with a lobster salesman and killed him for no good reason - and it also means that the Family back stateside with roving goons clipped another foursome with a physical resemblance.
This may propel the plot, but it also spells doom for this would-be lighthearted romp. The bloodshed and sociopathic behavior on display is real - indeed, the third act when the Italian-American chickens come home to roost far more resembles the bullet-blasted Besson-produced 'Colombiana' than 'Analyze This.' There is a way to mix real violence and comedy - lets look to 'Fargo' as an excellent example - but 'The Family' lazily throws any old scene up on the screen thinking it will either be hilarious or dazzling, without taking any care to massage spaces in between.
De Niro and Pfeiffer are fine enough, I suppose, in their roles, as are the two kids ('Glee' star Dianna Agron and John D'Leo.) The children are both social control geniuses who end up running the school after a quick montage, but it is aggravatingly phony. One minute the young boy is getting the crap knocked out of him, but by lunch he "has secrets" on everyone. The daughter, presented as the smartest in the room, gets so mooney over a boy she almost goes 'Twilight' and hurls herself off a tower (really an excuse for her to observe something which propels the story along.) To me it feels like the character outlines from the film's initial pitch just never actually got written through.
Besson's tactic is to hope the speed of the movie will prevent us from asking questions. Questions like, "Where did De Niro get that dynamite from?" or, "Why would the town have so many questions about the new American family, but none about the additional 3 guys who also hang around in very FBI-lookin' suits?"
One of the suits belongs to Tommy Lee Jones, who does exasperated very well. He's one of the few saving graces of the film, as well as a very well put together montage showing how a dashed-off poem for the school paper alerts the mob bosses in Attica prison of the hiding family's true whereabouts.
Everything in 'The Family' feels about 15 years old. It isn't a period piece, but I swear to you I'm not making this up: I am 98% certain someone refers to the currency as Francs and not Euros. Whatever you call the paper in your wallet, save yours and skip 'The Family.'
'The Family' opens in theaters on September 13.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.