The Movie Man : "The Family" isn't funny or anything else
September 17, 2013, By Tim Fak, If you’re a long time reader of The Movie Man Column, you probably noticed that in my first year of writing reviews I had several weeks where I was unable to file a review. As with all things here at The Logan County Herald, we’re constantly striving to improve the experience we offer our readers. In keeping with this goal, I’ve made an effort to file reviews more consistently this year, and if I can give another toot on my own horn, have done a pretty good job, until last week that is. Yeah, I missed a week, but I was determined to come back strong this week with a great review for you all. I’m just a bit sad to say however that a reviewer’s skills don’t extend to making a given film any good, and the film I’m reviewing this week: “The Family”, turned out to be something of a dud.
Billed as an action-comedy, “The Family” tells the story of Giovanni Manzoni, a former big wheel in the New York Mafia that falls out of favor and turns state’s evidence for reasons the film never bothers to make clear. When we catch up to him six years later, he’s in deep cover with the witness protection program with his family being hidden in a small town in France. Since he’s such a good “advertisement” for other criminals to flip, the FBI is pulling out all the stops to keep them safe and has assigned a team of bumbling (hey, it is supposed to be a comedy) FBI agents to keep them safe. As you might expect however, Manzoni and his family can’t quite manage to keep their criminal tendencies in check and it isn’t long before they’re wreaking havoc with the locals.
In and of itself, that might provide enough of a plot engine for a watchable comedy, but the main narrative thrust for the film is provided by a subplot in which the Don Manzoni once betrayed discovers where the family is hiding out and sends his men to extract vengeance. So basically, you’ve got a typical comedy set up and a typical action set up running in parallel, but they never quite manage to blend together, which is a bit too bad because they both had some potential in their given genre.
“The Family” features a fairly impressive veteran cast, but I was somewhat disappointed it yielded little in the way of standout performances (especially in light of its talent pool). Manzoni is played by Robert De Niro who as both a veteran of numerous mafia films, and more recently, goofball comedies seems like a natural choice for the role. That’s the upside. The downside is, De Niro could sleepwalk through this material, and well…he kind of does. I guess his performance was solid enough, but I was expecting more, a lot more. I got the feeling he may also have been a bit too old for the role, often seeming more like the grandfather of the family than the father. Michelle Pfeiffer plays his wife with a bit more charisma, but not much. She has a somewhat hokey Brooklyn accent that keeps going in and out, and I was never quite sure whether that was something that was intentional for the purposes of her character going in and out of cover, or simply a flub.
Tommy Lee Jones plays the same role he always does, the crusty, curmudgeonly, old timer FBI agent. He’s good at it, but we’ve seen him do this so many times before it loses much of its effect. The two real standout performances in the film come from John D'Leo and Dianna Agron as the two teenaged children. When these two are on screen, things tend to pick up a bit, and if the film focused more on their comically juvenile
attempts to enter “the family business” I think I would’ve enjoyed the film a great deal more.
Once again, I now come to the essential question I ask in all of my comedy reviews: “was it funny?” In the case of “The Family”, the answer is, no, not really. The film does provide some mildly amusing gags, but nothing truly clever, and no real laugh out loud moments. At the screening I attended, there wasn’t a single moment that elicited substantial laughter from the audience, just a few chuckles here and there. It’s become something of a cliché among comedy films that all the funny bits are shown in the trailer.
Well, The Family manages to go one better, as it’s trailer actually manages to show bits that look funny there, but aren’t funny when seen in the actual film. As with the performances themselves, the few successful gags all tend to revolve around the kids, except for one kind of funny in joke where the De Niro character is treated by the local cinema society as something of an expert on the films of Martin Scorsese.
The saving Grace of “The Family” is that when it shifts gears to a more action oriented tone, it actually pulls that aspect off fairly well. Perhaps this is to be expected, since director/co-writer Luc Besson has made his name in the action genre (he’s probably best known to American audiences for the cult action classic The Professional), and he’s clearly more comfortable (and adept) at this material than he is with comedy.
Really, the big action climax is pretty intense and could be suitable for a fairly decent straight action film. Still, this causes the film to have some rather jarring jumps in tone which can feel somewhat out of place. Like I said, the film does bill itself as an action comedy, but watching a man get strangled to death in the process of an attempted rape is rather much for a film that bills itself as any sort of comedy. That said, any fair assessment of “The Family” has to concede it boasts some impressive and well-staged action.
“The Family” is rated R, primarily for violence, but also for a fair amount of language.
In the end, I can’t say I enjoyed “The Family”. It’s a comedy that’s just not funny, and an action film that’s too silly to be taken seriously. I don’t imagine most viewers will find much to like in its mix of hokey wise guy gags and often graphic violence, but it is a fairly well made film, and perhaps some who are fans of its stars, particularly the younger ones will find a few shining moments here or there.
Rated 1 ½ out of a possible 4 stars.