Fall is approaching, and with the change of seasons comes a film that’s undergone a handful of changes itself – Luc Besson’s The Family. This ain’t your sitcom family, as Peter Travers says, but a mafia family, and fronting it is none other than Robert De Niro (“You’d think this man has ever played a mobster before,” Travers cracks).
Travers admits he had high hopes for Besson’s latest movie, a fish out of water tale that finds DeNiro’s family relocated to France as part of the witness protection program. Co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer as De Niro’s wife and Tommy Lee Jones as their FBI contact, the Brooklyn mob family finds themselves at violent odds with their new French neighbors: When Pfeiffer doesn’t like her treatment at the local supermarket, she burns it down; when De Niro’s faucet spits brown water, he beats up the guy responsible.
The Family is a comedy, but as Travers says, “What Luc Besson cannot do, and what The Family really proves is comedy. He cannot do it. The jokes in this movie come up like a French souffle and they just die flat.”
While Travers says The Family lacks any sort of cohesive tone and features another dull performance from De Niro, he does highlight one specific scene that saves the film from the scum bucket. In it, De Niro’s character is invited to a film club where they’re discussing Goodfellas, and Travers says, “To hear De Niro explain what Goodfellas is about even though he’s in it. . . it shows you how The Family could have worked if all the scenes were like this.”