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The Family's cheesy mob sendup

The lack of originality isn't The Family's biggest offense. Actually, there's something cheerily familiar about its derivative premise: A mob family is on the run after Dad (Robert De Niro) turns evidence against his fellow gangsters. Their CIA agent (Tommy Lee Jones) has placed them in France—just go with it—where they move from one small village to the next, leaving a trail of violence in their wake and staying just ahead of the gangsters out to kill them. The big joke is that each member of the family—not just Dad—is a violent sociopath: Mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) burns down a grocery store after the French clerk makes a crack about Americans eating cheeseburgers three meals a day; Daughter (Dianna Agron) takes a tennis racquet to the face of a pimply French teenager who attempts to make a move on her; Son (John D'Leo) is, at 14, running grifts in every corner of the schoolyard.

Directed by Luc Besson and based on the novel Malavita by Tonino Benacquista, this is a very French movie, milking incredibly lazy stereotypes of Americans and plundering already excessively plundered mafia movie tropes. At points, the movie is one of those winking, small-town, fish-out-of-water Euro-comedies; at others, it veers into mob-movie spoof territory. There's a scene where De Niro's character watches GoodFellas, which makes my head explode just thinking about it. For the final 20 minutes, Besson throws all of this out the window and reaches for the sort of taut, bullet-ridden action sequence that he managed so masterfully in La Femme Nikita and Léon/The Professional. But by then, it's too late.

You'll think, given Bob De Niro's recent track record, that what's wrong with The Family is predominantly his fault. Actually, he's easily the best thing here, turning in a sly performance that reminds us precisely why he was so great before he turned into a grizzled caricature of himself. Michelle Pfeiffer, too, is pretty good with what she's given, which isn't much at all. Tommy Lee Jones barely seems awake in the scenes that he's in, and The Wire's Herc has a tiny, thankless role—as does Big Pussy, who's in the movie for maybe 20 seconds. But the script is a mess, the plot is beyond ludicrous, the characters are half-assed tracings of other people's better ideas, and The Family's playful toying with the mafia movie formula quickly turns witless. Who knows? Maybe the French find this kind of thing hilarious.

dir. Luc Besson

Various Theaters


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