Monday, March 31, 2014
JohnnyTwoToes finds this french themed crime comedy an uneven ride
Luc Besson's newest film, The Family stars Robert DeNiro as a former mobster who has turned state's evidence against his criminal "family". As a result, he and his own family, the Manzoni's, have been relocated to Normandy, France under the Witness Protection Program under the authority of F.B.I. agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones).
The problem is the Manzoni's seem to always bring un-needed attention to themselves by misbehaving so the F.B.I. is running out of places to hide them. When in Normandy, the Manzoni family sets about starting over.......again. The son, Warren (John D'Leo) after some bumps at school with the local bullies, starts operating a criminal enterprise at the school running numbers, extortion, cheating on school exams and all sorts of extra curricular activities, none of them legal. The daughter, Belle (Dianna Agron) has set her sights on the new exchange teacher in school, with her own "extra curricular' activities. Maggie, the mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) has her own problems just getting used to another relocation. Which brings us to Giovanni Manzoni or Fred Blake as he and his family have been named for this relocation. He claims to be a writer, and he is trying to write his version of his life with Agent Stansfield who is worried what Manzoni will say. Mr. Manzoni....errrr..I mean Mr. Blake also has his own fish to fry with the local water company and the chemical treating plant that sits not too far from the water plant. Meanwhile, the criminal 'family' is exhausting all avenues of searching for Giovanni and his family for snitching.
The Family is an oddly uneven film that seems to not know what it wants to do. Is it a social satire, a fish out of water story, an action film, dark comedy, slapstick or an amalgamation of everything? If it is an amalgamation then it works best as a satire.
There are a few funny moments mostly with the kids at their school. John D'Leo and Dianna Agron shine as brother and sister who both deal with their new school in their own way and film has some fun with that. DeNiro and Pefeiffer have some chemistry as husband and wife but The Family's plot is based on AMAZING coincidences, most notably a quote used in the local newspaper that leads up to your standard climactic shootout. There is more than just one coincidence that seems to rely heavily on a script (written by Besson and Michael Caleo based on Tonino Benacquista's book Malavita aka. Badfellas) which is scattershot all over the place.
Some material hits the mark but mostly, The Family is so uneven that it can't be taken seriously when it wants to be and the humor comes across uncomfortably since each character resorts to extreme violence to resolve it. There are other plot gimmicks as well that are introduced but never dealt with at all. Yet, this is not an awful film and there are some fun moments, but overall, the material is too dark to be laughed at and the real meat of this film is lost with the extra trimmings of too many paper thin characters and far fetched plot devices that undermine the whole point of the film. The Family is better than Stand Up Guys, but that is not saying much. The Family-**1/2 out of 4.