Well, if you’re going to continue to exploit a tired Mafia stereotype, you might as well do it with the best.
Really, though, the idea of seeing Robert De Niro play yet another mobster in “The Family” taxes my brain. There’s no challenge here for one of Hollywood’s most gifted film stars. In fact, the only truly brilliant scene in “The Family” references De Niro’s place in Hollywood’s mob film canon. On the other hand, once you get over the cliché of De Niro as a mobster, he’s certainly fun to watch.
Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Arthur” and “The Invisibles”), who’s not exactly known for restraint and nuance, directs this dark comedy about the Manzoni family, who are hiding out in Normandy, France, after Giovanni Manzoni (De Niro) rats out his other “family.”
Manzoni was a ruthless mobster whose wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), is every bit as tough as he is. Oh, and their kids? Daughter Belle (Glee’s Dianna Agron) is as tough as she is beautiful, while 14-year-old son Warren (John D’Leo) is a cross between Ferris Bueller and Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden from “Fight Club.” Tommy Lee Jones is the FBI agent charged with the thankless and exasperating task of keeping the Manzonis alive.
The problem is, Giovanni and company — now calling themselves the Blakes — have a problem keeping a low profile. If you rub Giovanni the wrong way, he’ll either kill you or break all your bones. Maggie doesn’t like the way she’s treated while shopping, so she burns the market down. Belle beats a boy with a tennis racquet after he comes on too strong, while Warren extorts, forges and steals in an effort to run his high school.
Further complicating matters is that Giovanni is working on a tell-all book, though it’s really just a bad plot device to feed us his back story. Add to that the fact that a mob boss has put a $20 million bounty on Giovanni’s head, and our poor FBI agent Jones has his work more than cut out for him.
“The Family”‘s funniest moments aren’t derived from the writing but from the performances. This is an extremely weak script that plays on tired mob stereotypes, buttressed by a brutality that’s better suited for a mob drama than a dark comedy. The saving grace here is the cast, as De Niro, Pfeiffer and Jones mug their way out of Besson’s awkward comedic choices. To his credit, Besson is at his best in the final act, when the stakes are raised and comedy is not part of the equation.
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.