film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Family 2013 * * Stars

The above picture is a movie poster for the film The FamilyDirector: Luc Beeson
Year: 2013
Rated: R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones

On a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, I decided to take in a screening of the aptly titled, The Family. As I viewed this hollow, shallow, and tired exercise in modern filmmaking, I asked myself a simple yet loaded question: Does Robert De Niro really need to be in another mob fest? My answer: an emphatic no. With characters that have not an ounce of human compassion and scenes of unnecessarily brutal violence (I'm sure even mobsters exhibit a small ounce of decent human behavior unlike the cast in this dreck), this thing actually still wants you to laugh with it as well. So, is it a black comedy? Oh no. It's too dumbfounded to be that. Fargo is a black comedy. Dr. Strangelove is a black comedy. The Family couldn't tie their shoes. That's for darn sure. Truth be told, I don't really know what kind of film this is. I have no idea what it tries to be. The most shocking thing is that every rote scene turns extremely dark toward the last half. Therefore, I figured there was no point in having any of the characters try to exude laughs out of the audience in the first place. "Family" is a film you see once and that's it. I have no doubt in my mind that its box office status will drop like a heavy stone in a deep body of water.

Taking place in a small town in France and based on the 2010 novel called Badfellas (wow, there's an original title) by Tonino Benacquista, The Family is about De Niro's mafia boss character (Giovanni Mazoni), his wife (Maggie played by Michelle Pfeiffer who I guess, gives the flick's strongest performance), and their two children (newcomer John D'Leo and Glee alum Dianna Agron). Based on previous events in which Mazoni snitches on a crime kingpin thereby sending said person to prison, De Niro's clan (now going under the last name Blake) goes into a witness protection program. They end up living near Normandy, France and are being watched and/or supervised by an FBI agent named Robert Stansfield (played by Tommy Lee Jones who deserves better). As I stated earlier, The Family undercuts scenes of brutal beatings with moderate sitcom humor until it goes into deeper, darker territory. To say that this picture is uneven, is a gigantic understatement. And the fact that it makes references to De Niro's 1990 acting triumph Goodfellas, is insulting. In a sense, it turns The Family into a parody rather than a real movie.

All in all, I guess what boggles my mind is why Martin Scorsese agreed to produce a mafia vehicle directed by the guy who wrote The Transporter flicks (Luc Beeson, who always seems to bring a slick, empty look to the proceedings). What's even more puzzling is the fact that Tommy Lee Jones (Stansfield) signed on to play such a nothing role as the sad sack who watches over De Niro's character. Ultimately, The Family is an uninspired mess. It's an out-of-place popcorn flick (the violent bloodbath toward the film's conclusion reminded me of one of the Die Hard films) and a startlingly un-human mix of mob comedy and fledgling drama. Yes, the acting is decent and the direction is numbingly serviceable. But by the time the final credits roll, you'll realize how disposable it is. In its 112 minute running time, all the events that took place could easily recycle themselves many times over. Translation: there is no need to take in a viewing. As I walked out the theater, I realized that I'm fortunate to not be a part of a "family" like this. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

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