Review: Uneven 'Family' saved by De Niro, Pfeiffer

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It's "Goodfellas" meets "Analyze This" in "The Family," an off-beat, dysfunctional mob family comedy that features Robert De Niro essentially parodying his famed mafia characters once again -- but this time with some shocking echoes of his dramatic, hitman movie past mixed in with the laughs.

De Niro and Pfeiffer star along with Dianna Agron ("Glee") and John D'Leo as the Manzonis, who've been forced to take on the names of Fred, Maggie, Belle and Warren Blake after Giovanni (Fred's real name) rats out the Don of a powerful New York City crime family and are forced into the federal Witness Protection Program.

Continually on the run in Europe because Giovanni can't seem to leave behind his thuggish ways, the family ends up in Normandy, France, in yet another attempt to assimilate with the locals in a small village. When their cover is blown, the Don, operating out of Attica Prison in New York, orders his hitmen to travel to Europe and wipe the Manzonis off the map for good.

See my review of "The Family" on "KARE 11 News at 11" with Brian Piatt below.

The biggest problem with "The Family" is that it can't quite decide what kind of film it wants to be. Clearly director Besson is aiming for laughs, yet several instances of brutal violence drags the film into some very dark territory. If you mess with any member of the Manzoni family -- mom, dad, brother or sister -- you're asking to get blown up or have the tar beaten out of you. Needless to say, taking crap is not their style.

De Niro, of course, is the last one you want to mess with, and in fact, there's a scene where he references Al Capone before he takes somebody to school with a baseball bat (remember De Niro's "baseball" speech and subsequent murder in "The Untouchables"? This scene doesn't involve a killing, but the attack is just as graphic).

As for the comedy, "The Family" is a one-joke movie. It's a fish-out-of-water story, where the comedy tends to arise from the family's exploits in their unfamiliar surroundings. The movie is also rife, too, with stereotypes, from Italian mob heavies to pompous Frenchmen -- whose broken American accents are way over the top (oddly enough, everyone in the village appears to speak American, too, with relative ease).

Besson, the expert director behind "The Professional" and "The Fifth Element," naturally works in his gift for hyper-kinetic filmmaking, which naturally hits overdrive in the final bullet-and-explosion filled final act. At least in between the mayhem Besson tries to develop his characters by giving the movie a little back story in an attempt to make it more cohesive.

"The Family," if for any reason, is worth seeing simply because of De Niro and Pfeiffer. Tommy Lee Jones has a smaller role, too, as an agent flustered over the continual relocation of the family. It's their strong presence and solid acting chops that help the film barely climb above average.

Besides, you can't help but like a movie where De Niro throws in a healthy amount of F-bombs. It's always amusing to hear him rifle them off, especially in his comedic roles, because he has such of great command of the word. Besson knows this, and smartly works in a plot point about De Niro's nuanced uses of the F-word, which results in some well-placed laughs.

"The Family," rated R, 2 1/2 stars out of four.

What other local critics are saying ...

Kristin Tillotson of the Star Tribune gives the film 2 stars, noting how French director Besson was willing to let his countrymen's butts get kicked for the sake of laughs. "If cultural treason were a capital offense, “The Family” director Luc Besson would be on death row," she wrote.

Chris Hewitt gives the film 1 star in his Pioneer Press review, calling it "sloppy" and "tone-challenged."

See the trailer for "The Family" below.

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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