Monday, September 16, 2013

Movie Review: Chaotic "The Family" manages to amuse

This column was originally published in the KPC Media Group newspapers and online at Read the original column here. Republished on The Pop Tarts with permission. 

Sometimes in comedy, it’s tough to stay on the right side of the line between wildly amusing and just a little weird. 

“The Family” rides that line, occasionally stepping over into the “strange” category, and that makes for an uneven experience at the theater. Still, on the strength of its leads and a delightful, if not entirely new, concept, it ends up being a pretty entertaining way to pass a couple of hours.

“The Family” follows Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro), a former Mafia member who ratted out his associates and had to flee into the witness protection program with his family. As the film opens, he and his wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), and children, Belle (Diana Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo), are relocating yet another time, and it soon becomes clear why - when provoked, they all act like you’d expect Mob members to act, and take matters into their own, violent hands. This causes a lot of problems for their handler, CIA Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), of course, as he tries to keep hitmen off their trail.

There is a lot of good material to work with in “The Family,” and there are several very funny moments, but taken as a whole, the movie is too scattershot to truly be successful. Scattered amid the funny bits are a lot of scenes that feel like they were stuck in without too much rhyme or reason. They end up paying off, kind of, during the final shootout, but the scene is not epic enough to really warrant how random it feels. I know that writer/director Luc Besson and his cowriter, Michael Caleo, were trying to establish the violence the entire family employs - and make the audience laugh, since the wife and kids don't look capable of the things they do - but it doesn't always work as well as they clearly want it to work.

I really wanted it to work, too, which is part of the reason that the movie is a little bit of a letdown. I like gangster movies, and I love a good black comedy, so "The Family" seemed like a good fit. The concept is really great, especially the idea that the wife and kids have been absorbed into the lifestyle, despite the fact that Giovanni hasn't been in the Mob in years. It's fun and quite a shock at first to see the innocent-looking Belle beat up a guy who tries to get too handsy, or the dorky Warren expertly setting up black-market deals at school, but there are far too many scenes like that end up being major interruptions in the flow of the movie.

The thing that saves "The Family" is Robert DeNiro as Giovanni and Tommy Lee Jones as Agent Stansfield. They are really a pair. OK, they're not really playing against type - DeNiro has made a name for himself as a tough-guy mobster, and Jones is not exactly new to playing a grim-faced, quietly annoyed guy. Still, there is a reason that they play these roles time and again - they're really great at it. As exciting as it is to see actors stretch themselves, there's a certain joy to see a couple of guys on the big screen doing what they're great at doing. 

One of the biggest delights in the movie, though, is Michelle Pfeiffer as Giovanni’s wife. She’s volatile when provoked, but she’s also the woman taking treats over to the CIA guys watching her house from across the street. Pfeiffer plays Maggie perfectly, with a lot of love for her family, a lot of hate for those who cross her and a dash of annoyance at her current lifestyle. Pfeiffer steals several of the scenes she’s in, and I would have loved to see her do more.

The other thing that helps edge “The Family” out of the truly mediocre category is the way that it comes together at the end. There’s something nice and almost touching about the way the members of this dysfunctional family come together when they’re threatened. There are still plenty of issues, of course, and I never felt like that part of the movie came together the way it really should have, but it was a nice concept that gave the movie another little boost.

"The Family" is yet another one of those movies that is much better in concept than in execution, and that means it ultimately left me a little flat. But there were just enough laughs - not belly laughs, but chuckles and giggles - to keep me fairly happy, and enough of an interesting plot to keep me entertained. 

Jenny's Take: See it on DVD.
(Rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality. Runs 110 minutes.)

No comments:

Post a Comment