Executive Producer Martin Scorsese and Director Luc Besson’s new mob comedy The Family is My Cousin Vinnie meets The Departed, two films that perform well on their own but are undrivable when car-compacted together. Obviously intended as a Sicilian version of The Addams Family, the film comes across more like home movies of the Manson Family. It is a nightmare spiral of joyful butchery and cartoonery.
This is both sad and surprising coming from Luc Besson, the acclaimed director of such hits as the cult favorite Léon: The Professional and his box office winner The Fifth Dimension. Both of those works adeptly juggled the delicate blend of violent action and humor without devolving into sadism or the ridiculous. The Family unfortunately sinks to both levels, like Luca Brasi in cement crocs.
The problem once again is trying to appeal to all demographics. Half of the story focuses on the cliché high school experiences of the family’s two teens (a key demographic), while even the most violent scenes shoehorn in bleak attempts at comedy (a key genre). The story at its core is a grim gangster tragedy in the vein of The Departed, so the attempts to make it whimsical and kid-friendly fall as flat as Martin Sheen after a rooftop visit by the Boston mob.
The story is the tale of a Mafia family in the Witness Protection Program transitioning—badly—into new identities in France. Robert DeNiro ably plays the turncoat father, and Michelle Pfeiffer is believable as his stalwart but simple Italian wife. Unfortunately, the entire family manifests the psychotic viciousness of Joe Pesci’s Tommy character from Goodfellas. We are supposed to see ironic humor in their savagery because they look like the sweet-faced family next door, but overkill is overkill even when performed by rosy-cheeked youths.
Irony is the director’s guidepost for this movie. Humor is supposed to be found in the contrast between the coy recollections DeNiro narrates, Goodfellas-style, over graphic montages of torture murders he committed. The attempts fail, however, because the humor is too weak and the images too strong to maintain sympathy for his psychotic character.
Bizarrely, the many sadistic acts are portrayed with gruesome realism but, as in slapstick comedies, carry no consequences. They usually go unnoticed or unreported and are immediately ignored by the characters and the story, much as in a cartoon where everyone simply frolics on to the next set piece.
This effort to force broad comedy into a Scorsese film is like Casino’s Joe Pesci character trying to force respect into a thug by applying a vise to his head until his eyes pop out. It definitely catches your attention but in the end is a disturbing waste of time.
If the movie were played straight, and if the haunted emotions that are hinted at were more deeply explored, this film coulda been a contender in the movie hall of fame, given the quality of talent associated with it. It could have been the movie one suspects Scorsese intended it to be. Instead, it is an unfunny comedy that squanders the talents of all involved. Fo’geddabowdit.
Check out the trailer for The Family at