Movie Review: 'The Family' -- 1.5 stars
Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, veterans of mob comedies "Analyze This" and "Married to the Mob," join forces with director Luc Besson on "The Family" and the result is a lot less enjoyable than you'd think.
It follows the plight of the Manzoni family, who have adopted the comically bland surname Blake as they arrive in Normandy, France, part of the witness protection program after dad Giovanni aka Fred (De Niro) rats on his New York mafia counterparts.
Dad spends most of his time lounging around the house, writing his memoirs, while mom Maggie (Pfeiffer), daughter Bella (Dianna Agron) and son Warren (John D'Leo) try and fail to assimilate with their Gallic counterparts.
The actors are game; De Niro turns his archetypal mob boss into a subtler, even more pathetic figure than his blubbering Paul Vitti in "Analyze This." Pfeiffer is his fiery, take-no-prisoners counterpart. Only Tommy Lee Jones seems characteristically disinterested as the CIA agent looking after the family.
The movie repeats the same basic humorous conceit ad nauseam, however: The "Blakes" violently overreact to things, setting grocery stores on fire, beating up fellow students and turning school into a crime racket. These are ridiculous, tired stereotypes, without one shred of the complexity afforded classic mafia characters of the cinematic past.
And this isn't clever satire. It doesn't even play on the basic cultural differences between these hardcore New York Italian-Americans and the French. The same story could unfold in this fashion anytime, anywhere, with some minor tweaks at most.
At his filmmaking best, Besson is a master of corralling conflicting tones. But he loses control of "The Family," which vacillates between the deadpan absurdity of a mob parody, sepia-colored 1930s gangster movie homage and small-town European comedy. It's not terrible; the lead performances count for a lot. But it is a mess.