November 18, 2013 Leave a comment
Following some gangster business back home in Brooklyn, the Maznoni family enter the witness relocation programme and — having quickly blown their cover in Nice — find themselves on the outskirts of Normandy. Now living as Mr. Blake, Giovanni (Robert De Niro) takes up writing as his new profession, while wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) scours the local shops for peanut butter and children Belle (Diana Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo) head to school to size up their peers. In order to keep them safe from Don Luchese (Stan Carp), and prevent the need for another relocation, FBI Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) makes periodic visits to the family home to check that everyone is behaving by the rules.
Naturally, it doesn’t take long for the family’s criminal sensibilities to resurface, and before their first full day is out Giovanni has buried someone in his back garden, Maggie has blown up a small supermarket because they didn’t stock the spread she was after and Belle has near-hospitalised a horny teenager from her school with a wooden tennis racket. You get the impression that director Luc Besson is expecting you to laugh at these backwards Frenchmen and their non-American ways, perhaps in the belief that his own nationality gives him the right to point and laugh at an entire nation, but these early scenes are definitively not funny. In fact, they’re even less funny than the later ones.
Audiences have grown to expect ridiculous body counts in their movies, but the death tally is usually comprised from henchmen and off-screen collateral damage. This summer alone the entire population of Metropolis was apparently wiped out by General Zod, Spanish commuters were crushed by an enemy tank in Fast Six and the entire planet took a hit when the Kaiju invaded during Pacific Rim. The difference was, however, that in most cases the violence was instigated by the bad guys, to establish stakes or fill out a set piece, rather than the characters the audience are supposed to be rooting for because their plummer was a bit unhelpful. Oh, and they weren’t supposed to be comedies either.
While it might be misjudged, the jokes might not work and the cast is almost certainly squandered, however, technically at least the film doesn’t do too much wrong. The action is reasonably well staged, the film is not too ugly to look at and — in the case of Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones’ face, that is — the performances are competent enough. It’s just horrible. There are also a number of subplots that go nowhere, and that’s compared to a student-teacher relationship that leaves Belle standing on top a church in the middle of the night for apparently no reason, and a memoir that is dropped half-way through so that Giovanni can watch Goodfellas at the local cinema.
The Family is not a bad movie, and I suppose — if you don’t mind Americans sneering at Europeans, and then beating them up because of their differences — it is only occasionally offensive. It is, however, boring on a level that is almost impressive. Almost.