Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: "The Family"

"The Family" is a goof, a recycle of a rehash, a sort-of sequel to "Goodfellas" in which we find out what happens to the gangster after he snitches on his pals and goes into witness protection. It features Robert De Niro, who has largely spent the last 20 years of his career spoofing on the first 20 years of his career as a cinematic tough guy.

He still plays tough, but now it's for laughs. Or at least it's supposed to be. This inert comedy just lies there, intermixing horrific violence with jokes about more violence. It tries to skate by on the charms of De Niro and co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones. But it's essentially a one-joke movie, and that joke gets old pretty quick.

De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a one-time mob boss who's now living in France with his family: wife Maggie (Pfeiffer, doing a screechy retread of her "Married to the Mob" role), daughter Belle (Diana Agron, pushing 30 and playing 17) and son Warren (John De'Leo). They're a collection of Italian-American stereotypes in search of a set-up to deliver the obvious punchline.

They move from place to place whenever they cause any trouble, which is frequently. When they roll up to their new place in a tiny village in Normandy, Gio -- who goes under the name Fred Blake -- already has a body hidden in the back of the car. Gio seems cool as a cucumber on the outside, but the minute he feels disrespected, someone's going in a hole.

Unfortunately, being an American in France, the clan gets disrespected a lot. Director and co-writer Luc Besson wades into a whole lot of "ugly American" territory, with the added irony that "Fred" and company really are homicidal thugs. Maggie blows up a grocery store on her first day in town when the locals snicker at her request for peanut butter, and both kids lay severe beat-downs on classmates.

The strangest thing about the movie is there really isn't any reason for the story to be set in France. None of the family speak the lingo very well, even after living there for years. Would the FBI handler (Jones) really take the trouble and expense of setting them up in a foreign country when the good ol' U.S. of A is begger than 10 Frances?

The answer is "The Family" is based on a novel by a French author, Tonino Benacquista, and Besson is another Frenchie. It's basically their homage to "Goodfellas" -- there's even a scene where "Fred" gets invited to a film club meeting and that's the movie playing. So it's De Niro poking fun at one of his own iconic roles.

This sort of self-indulgence might be more tolerable if the movie were funnier. But between the geysers of blood, repetitive jokes about boorish Americans and snooty French, "The Family" was better left dead and buried.

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