The Family (★★)

familyBack when this film was known as “Malavita” (the only remaining hint of that is the family dog has that name), it had been bandied about as potentially an Oscar vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer. Oh boy is that ever not the case. Now known as The Family, this is a dumb action comedy that’s thoroughly mediocre at best. Co-writer/director Luc Besson has basically made an action comedy cartoon here, but not one that’s especially well made. Besides Pfeiffer sporting a really inconsistent accent, we have Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones just going through the motions. Wasn’t it just months ago that we were watching them both compete for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars? Well, De Niro is back doing his comedic take on his gangster role past, while Jones just looks incredibly bored. There are one or two nearly inspired moments of weirdness here, but by and large The Family is just chock full of obvious comedy, bland action, and an almost total lack of a plot. Factor in that it’s somehow almost two hours long, and this can be a trying motion picture to sit through. I’ve definitely seen worse this year, but I’ve seen so much better as well. For the talent involved, this is a major disappointment, even with lowered expectations.

For Giovanni Manzoni (De Niro), life after trading in being a mob boss for a government snitch has been one of moving from one town to another in protective custody. When we first meet him, he and his family are now the Blakes, with Gio as Fred Blake, alongside his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), and son Warren (John D’Leo) heading to Normandy. You see, they have trouble fitting in, stuck in their old ways, which constantly frustrates their government handler Agent Robert Stansfield (Jones). Gio/Fred has a habit of beating or killing anyone who doesn’t play nice with him, while his wife isn’t above a little violence when it’s called for either. As for his children, well…they’re more than capable of taking care of themselves and following in the footsteps of their father. With a $20 million bounty on the family, there’s no shortage of bad guys after them, but they’ve eluded capture so far, leading Gio/Fred to decide the time has come to write his memoirs. Anyone with half a brain can tell that things won’t stay that way for too long and the mob will come right up to their door seeking retribution, but until that inevitable action scene arrives, you get a lot of broad comedy as these distinctly large American personalities butt up against their new French neighbors. Hilarity mostly doesn’t ensue…

the family de niro and jonesOnce upon a time, seeing Robert De Niro do comedy was a novel concept. Now, it’s a sad and tired reminder of how inconsistent his career has become. De Niro attempts to bring back the old tough guy routine here and there, but mostly this is an unsuccessful rehashing of his on screen persona. Aside from working in a Goodfellas joke in the third act, there’s little reason for De Niro to have been involved here. He at least is on screen most of the time…Michelle Pfeiffer is completely wasted here. With that aforementioned off accent and very little to do, she mostly just wanders around town. I wish I was making that up. Both Dianna Agron and John D’Leo get more time afforded to their subplots than necessary, but they’re decent enough in the roles. Sadly, they end up being used as plot devices before long. As for Tommy Lee Jones? The man barely looks like he’s awake and deserves better. Supporting players here include Domenick Lombardozzi, Jimmy Palumbo, and Vincent Pastore, among others, but no one distinguishes themselves at all, I assure you.

I’m not the world’s biggest Luc Besson fan, but even I can tell that this is a big step down for him. In adapting this film from its novel roots with co-writer Michael Caleo, Besson has wound up with easily his least interesting directorial outing in some time. He’s more a writer and producer now than a director, but as a previously successful filmmaker, he should have seen what a mess this project was. Besson does not mix his action and comedy well at all, overdosing on the latter, so the tone is all over the place. The pacing is also far too lax, leading to a bloated running length. There’s one ridiculous scene involving a school newspaper that almost has to be seen to be believed, but aside from that there’s very little original material on display here.

In the end, what we have here with The Family is a mediocre movie that never truly finds an identity (ironic, considering the material). Never embarrassingly bad but also never sure enough of itself to find a way to be appealing, this is the sort of film that you forget about shortly after watching. Mostly, it just made me want to go back and re-watch De Niro’s performance in Silver Linings Playbook and Jones’ performance in Lincoln. I suppose that’s something, right?

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!