Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted: The Family

Title: The Family

Robert De Niro Playing A Mobster? What Are The Odds? Going by my totally scientific method of scrolling through his filmography on Wikipedia, I'd say he's played an organized crime figure roughly eight hundred times.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three propane canisters out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Mob snitch and family are relocated to Normandy (France). Remain psychopathic in spite of new identities.

Tagline: "Some call it organized crime. Others call it family."

Better Tagline: "More like disorganized crime, right? Right? Don't leave me hanging."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Keeping former Mafia boss Giovanni Mazoni (Robert De Niro) AKA "Fred Blake" and his family in witness protection is a chore, as they tend to cause mayhem wherever they end up. Mom Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a bit of a pyromaniac, daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) has a decidedly hands-on way of dealing with overly amorous French boys, and son Warren (John D'Leo) is keen to follow in Dad's footsteps. Relocated to a sleepy town in Normandy, the old habits of the newly christened "Blakes" are about to have serious repercussions, not the least of which for their handler, Agent Quintiliani (Tommy Lee Jones).

"Critical" Analysis: For starters, do the Feds really move people in witness protection to France? I guess it's too late for me to get mobbed up and rat everyone out. Pity, I'm a tremendous slouch. Er, snitch.

Well, except for that fact that -- as I've learned from movies and The Simpsons -- the Witness Protection Program (or WITSEC) never works. Either the witness falls back into old habits (My Blue Heaven), or one of the US Marshals is actually a mole (Eraser) or you run afoul of Larry the Cable Guy (Witless Protection). In The Family the inevitability of the "Blakes" being discovered is only slightly offset by the unlikely deus ex machina that sets things in motion.

And not having seen any trailers, I was a little taken aback by how brutal it was. While the body count may not be as high as, say, a Scorsese flick (executive producer here), the suddenness and (often) creativity of the various murders and maimings are up there with everything but maybe Casino. Glee's Agron is rather lethal with a tennis racket, for example. Maybe she could do us all a favor and overhand smash Will Schuester a few times.

But overall, The Family is an uneven effort. Maybe director Luc Besson was a little rusty helming his first feature film since 2011's The Lady (one of the few movies he's directed in the last 15 years that isn't an Arthur and the Invisibles sequel). He still handles action as capably as he did in Léon and The Fifth Element, but wields a duller blade in his attempts at comedy.

He's helped somewhat in that regard by his cast. Sure, De Niro probably says "Fuggedaboutit" in his sleep, but he plays Mazoni/Blake with a light enough touch to suggest he's in on the joke, even without the "heavy meta" touches like Blake quoting Al Capone's line about "getting farther with a kind word and a gun" or *watching and discussing Goodfellas with the local cinema society.*

But it's Pfeiffer who steals the show. This shouldn't be all that surprising, since she's been great in the past (especially as the spouse of mobsters), but has been mostly AWOL from the big screen for almost a decade. Truthfully, you can almost see Maggie as an older Angela de Marco from Married to the Mob: world-weary and jaded but still loyal and fiercely protective of her own. That, and she sets things on fire when she's angry.

Eh, I'd allow it.

I guess when we get down to it, Pfeiffer's performance is what nudges The Family into the "recommended" category. Barely. There are other somewhat inspired bits here and there (Warren's Rube Goldbergian scheme to get revenge on some bullies, the etymology of Fred's use of the word "fuck") but lots of it falls flat. The subplot involving Fred's quest for clean water serves little purpose except to illustrate his brutality, and much is made of some big reveal in the memoirs Fred is writing, but it must have ended up on the cutting room floor. Or else Besson's holding out for a sequel. I think he's more likely to get Bruce Willis back for The Sixth Element

The Family is in theaters today. What's the over/under on how many more mobsters De Niro can play before he retires? I'm going with four.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar