Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer
Directed by Luc Besson
Robert De Niro – wait for it – in the role of a mobster. Now there's an original idea. In The Family, not to be confused with De Niro's roles in GoodFellas, The Godfather: Part II, The Untouchables, Casino, Once Upon a Time in America, Analyze This, Analyze That (go on, make your list), De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a mob snitch. For ratting out his own wiseguys back in Brooklyn, Giovanni is put in the witness protection program, dragging along his real family, wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) and son Warren (John D'Leo). After working their way through the States, then Paris and now remote Normandy, the Manzonis are pretty fed up with their lot in life, which means living in fear that the mob will catch up with them at any time. So the family acts out. Big time. Maggie burns down supermarkets that give her sass. Warren hustles everyone at school. Belle uses a baseball bat, like De Niro's Al Capone, when a guy puts his mitts on her. And Giovanni, now using the name Fred Blake and pretending to write a book about the marines in Normandy? Well, bodies that give him offense tend to wind up in the trunk of his car awaiting swift burial. Supervising the family is Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), a long-suffering F.B.I. agent who looks as miserable at his job as Jones does acting in this movie. My assumption is that French director Luc Besson, who proved his mastery with action in La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element and especially The Professional, wanted to make a comedy. But I can count the laughs in this movie on the fingers of one hand and still have four fingers left over. To be fair, I did roar at the scene in which Giovanni is invited to address a French Cinema Society and ends up deconstructing GoodFellas. The rest is a no go. Besson's talent for farce is, to put it kindly, non-existent. The R-rated violence—heads bashed, throats slit, blood everywhere—doesn't exactly put a grin on your face. The actors, especially Pfeiffer, give the script more than it deserves. But Besson's leaden touch works against light and airy. The Family is a comic soufflé that never rises.
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