Share This Page

Never go against 'The Family'? Well, maybe

| Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 7:49 p.m.

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones revisit some blasts from their pasts in “The Family,” a violent action comedy about a mob family in France thanks to the witness-protection program.

De Niro does a little “Analyze This” as Giovanni Manzoni, who ratted out his mob pals back in Brooklyn and now has a $20 million price on his head. He is, he narrates, “a nice guy” who just has to control “my sadistic urges” better. He's prone to beating people senseless or to death over things like poor service, “disrespect” and the like. And he's in France.

Funny.

Pfeiffer tones down her “Married to the Mob” turn as Maggie, the long-suffering wife, moving to yet another town where these people — “The Blakes,” they're called this time — need to fit in. But her encounters with rude French salesclerks bring out the practicing pyromaniac in her.

Their kids — Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D'Leo) — have another high school to reconnoiter, master and have their way with.

And Jones is a milder-mannered version of his U.S. marshal characters as a government agent who tries to keep these four alive, and keep the incidents with the locals to a minimum.

As the Blakes set up shop in small-town Normandy, Gio, or “Fred,” decides he'll write his memoirs. His cover story now is that he's “a writer.”

Maggie finds a charming, ancient church, and curdles the blood of the local priest with her confession (which we don't hear).

Warren, 14, is bullied, but born to work the angles until he's had his revenge. And Belle is a streetwise bombshell who sets her sights on a student teacher as her first-ever sexual conquest.

Gio narrates as he types up his book, detailing his family history, papering over his sadistic impulses even as he sets out to find out why their old house has brown water coming out of the tap.

Everybody speaks English, which helps the kids and their “fuggedaboutit” parents adjust. Except they don't. The movie also lacks much in the way of “Frenchness,” which is a pity.

And even though the cast is first-rate, “The Family” tends to lurch between laughs, with the most reliable humor coming from the Blakes' over-the-top violence as a way of solving every problem.

De Niro is the funniest he's been since the “Analyze” series, and one scene — he's invited to be a guest speaker at a film society — manages huge laughs based on his past filmography.

Director Luc Besson established his action cred decades ago with “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional,” and he wrote and produced “The Transporter” and “Taken” movies. But nobody ever accused Monsieur Luc of having any flair for comedy. The backhanded slaps at French snootiness, softness and overrated cuisine, and his idea of this sort of mob folk — adept at violence and quick to use it — aren't particularly funny.

Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.