“The Family” has all of the necessary ingredients to make a tremendously delicious dark gangster comedy. It stars one of Hollywood’s most prolific faux mobsters Robert De Niro, has Martin Scorsese executive producing, and is helmed by “Taken” and “Leon: The Professional” director Luc Besson. Sadly, however, “The Family” ends up leaving a lasting taste closer to Chef Boyardee than authentic Italian cuisine.
Set in Normandy, France, Besson’s screenplay — co-written by Michael Caleo and based on the book by Tonino Benacquista — attempts to show the lighter side of FBI protective custody. Remember when Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill ended up relocating to a safe house at the end of “Goodfellas?” Yeah, that’s basically where this movie starts.
In “The Family,” Robert De Niro plays the New York City streetwise Fred Blake. Joining Fred is the rest of his family including: his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Bell (Dianna Argon), and son Warren (John D’Leo).
Despite being under constant surveillance from Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), the Blakes are having trouble acclimating themselves to a domestic lifestyle. More often than not, Fred, Maggie, Bell, and Warren would rather solve their problems as if they were still part of the mob instead of resolving things like normal people would..
With so many award-winning actors and filmmakers on display, “The Family” should have been a shoo-in come Oscar season. Unfortunately, Besson brings nothing new to the gangster movie genre. Actually, he doesn’t really bring anything new to any genre.
Of all of the talented actors on display, Robert De Niro does the best job making the most out of an otherwise dull script. Even though the character’s main narrative arc consists of trying to get a faucet to work properly, De Niro’s subtle mannerisms and authentic gangster vibe provide further proof that the actor sure can play a convincing criminal.
Michelle Pfeifer on the other hand, adopts one of the worst Brooklyn accents I have ever heard on screen. She would have been better off playing her character straight, because as it is in the film, her voice sounds more like a Kristen Wiig SNL sketch rather than something taken from a Hollywood motion picture.
On the bright side; it is definitely entertaining to watch Fred seriously maim the plumber after he can’t fix his broken pipes. There is also some cinematic value in seeing the pretty Belle beat the pulp out of a high school bully with a tennis racket. Besson, however, unnecessarily dedicates too much of the movie showing just how crazy and different the Blakes are.
By the time the mafia finds out where Fred is holed up, the audience has already been lulled to sleep by repetitive scenes consisting of mindless fighting, explosions, and one particular four letter swear word beginning with the letter ‘f.’
After putting up with so much nonsensical violence and crass humor, I could not help but reduce Besson’s film into a single sentence. It is essentially about horrible people doing horrible things to others and somehow getting away with it.
With a quiet September release schedule, I am beginning to wonder if this is a more apt logline for the entire Hollywood landscape instead of just “The Family”.
By David Morris