- Grant enables UAB Hospital staff to feed underprivileged moms of newborns
- Military man coming to UAB for first time, graduates Saturday
- UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences to honor distinguished alumni and friends
- ‘Tis the season of giving — UAB launches holiday blood drive
- How a cybersecurity expert protects his smartphone
- ASC presents Take 6, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Dec. 15
- Leeth named UAB School of Medicine assistant dean for strategic planning
- Coping with holiday grief
- New water plan saves big money
- Campus police offer holiday safety tips
- Alys Stephen Center Screens Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago
- Hospital feeds underprivileged new moms
- UAB’s Alys Stephens Center presents Yo-Yo Ma Dec. 6
- Southern Miss tops Blazers, 62-27, in season ending game
- Henry Panion selected for 2014 Alabama African-American History Calendar
Mark’s Movies — The Family
The Family is the latest attempt to put a comedic spin on the mob, and it likely won’t be the last. Granted, this one boasts a pretty impressive pedigree that sets it apart from most of the pack, but even within this particular group of people are some veterans of the subgenre, which one can safely say is a thing by now, what with all the films and television shows that fit that particular bill at this point.
Of course, star Robert De Niro revived a somewhat sagging career back in 1999 with the incredibly successful Analyze This, which spawned a sequel and paved the way for the superlative The Sopranos that same year, which most would term the pinnacle of the “funny” mob-related subgenre, though the show certainly had its serious moments. (Co-star of that show, Vincent Pastore, aka “Big Pussy,” also crops up here, as- wait for it- “Big Willy.”)
Over ten years before that, co-star Michelle Pfeiffer was Married to the Mob in 1988, not to mention married to the titular Scarface in 1983, the film that put her on the map in the first place. Though Scarface was hardly a barrel of laughs, it has its funny moments, and that’s part of its charm.
The Family certainly is very aware of all this, so when a meta-moment arises involving De Niro commenting on a movie he was actually in (as himself, not the character here, of course), it’s clear the film is in on the joke and isn’t taking itself too seriously. On the other hand, it is pretty violent for a film like this, handily earning it’s R-rating, so it makes for a bit of a mixed message overall. And therein lies the problem, I suppose.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, the film has its moments. In addition to that fun scene with De Niro, there’s some enjoyable stuff here, notably the bits involving his family not exactly making it a point to fit in without drawing attention to themselves as a family under witness protection should be. Son Warren (John D’Leo) wastes no time figuring out the local racket, effectively manipulating everyone in the school to his benefit and getting revenge on bullies in the process.
Speaking of rackets, daughter Belle (Dianna Agron, a long way from Glee) also wastes no time in laying waste to the local horn-dog that harasses her with one of the tennis variety, much to the horror of his buddies. She likewise finds a way to maneuver a student teacher in her sights to her ends as well. Granted, it doesn’t end well, but then neither do things for her brother, ultimately.
Or the family as a whole, really. Of course, we wouldn’t have much of a movie if there weren’t some sort of mob-related conflict, and though the one here is a bit of a stretch- the way the mob discovers the location of De Niro and company was nothing if not a little dubious- it’s still pretty satisfying seeing the showdown between the family, and well, the “family,” if you know what I mean.
Now for the bad news. As Hollywood is all too wont to do, some of the best moments are given away in the trailer, which is unfortunate. I certainly would have appreciated Pfeiffer’s run-in with the local grocery store much more if it hadn’t already been spoiled by the preview, but it’s still reasonably amusing, I suppose. Another issue is the often jarring violence that isn’t exactly funny, though occasionally the film almost inadvertently gets the tone right by default, such as with the bit where Pfeiffer spots De Niro loading the local plumber into his own van after a beat-down. The beat-down itself isn’t funny, but the bit with Pfeiffer is by virtue of her reaction.
Also relatively funny are De Niro’s occasional flashes of violence when he imagines taking matters into his own hands regarding his nosier and ruder neighbors. I chuckled when he planted one of their heads into the grill after questioning his cooking skills, but most of the sequences don’t work, which is why I suspect more than what we see was cut out.
I think part of the problem is the director, Luc Besson, who excels at action flicks like La Femme Nikita, The Professional and The Transporter, but fumbles with the humor here, which misfires more often than not. As he wrote the script himself, he really has no one but himself to blame, which is why it wouldn’t have hurt matters to outsource it to someone else the way he has with other projects he’s been involved in, such as The Fifth Element, which he co-wrote the screenplay for, allowing co-writer Robert Mark Kamen and star Chris Tucker to bring the funny instead of doing it himself.
Granted, it didn’t help the American take on Taxi, but at least someone else wrote that entirely, so Besson doesn’t have to shoulder any of the blame for that one, having fared much better with his own scripted version in France before the lesser-in-every-way remake. In The Family, it’s all Besson’s doing, so it’s kind of a shame, as there is the kernel of a fun film idea here that could have been much funnier than it ultimately is in someone else’s hands.
Don’t get me wrong, the cast is fine, and Agron and D’Leo are definitely ones to watch, faring he best with their comedic flair overall. More often than not, De Niro and Pfeiffer look a bit bored, and it’s no wonder: they’ve been there, done this. (Ditto Tommy Lee Jones, who does exasperated officials in his sleep by now.) I will say that the family in the film do have a nice chemistry, and seem reasonably realistic within the concept of the film, but without a solid script to back them up, it’s all for naught.
As such, I can’t give this much more than a C+ in good faith. I love Besson’s action stuff, to be sure, but he should stick to it, and leave the funny stuff to the professionals. (See what I did there?) Sad to say, this is one family you won’t want to join, at least in theaters. As cable-TV or lazy-day rentals go, it’s sufficient enough entertainment, but your hard-earned dollars deserve better.