Release date: Sept. 13, 2013
Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson and Michael Caleo
Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pheiffer, Diana Agron, John D'Leo, and Tommy Lee Jones
At this point in his career, Robert De Niro is the poster boy for the American gangster film tough guy. "The Family", the new film from director Luc Besson ("Léon", "The Fifth Element"), tries really hard to wrangle that old school De Niro magic, but the film fails to deliver the goods in this funny, but disappointing flick.
Robert De Niro plays Fred Blake, a husband, a father, living with his family in Normandy, France. Except they aren't just any family and his real name isn't Blake at all, it's Giovanni Manzoni. A former mobster turned informant, Fred and his family are in the witness protection program, but they can't stay out of trouble long enough to stay in one place.
Fred really begins to ruffle some feathers when he decides to spend his free time writing his memoirs, which promises to reveal all his crazy adventures as a gangster, as well as teasing the idea that the audience will get some kind of back story as to why this family is in witness protection program to begin with. Instead, the script settles for a generic "because Fred ratted out his mafia family" explanation, and a bunch of vague references to his past that never come close to satisfying the desire to actually hear about all of these things Fred is constantly saying are so amazing he could never make up.
The movie has a good premise, even if it is pretty by the numbers. The problem is that it never seems to deliver on its own set up. It would have been more satisfying to get at least a little info about the history of the Manzoni, and why they were forced to betray their mafia family, but instead there are a lot of vague references to some characters played by recognizable Italian American actors know for playing gangsters, who all want revenge on Fred and his family.
The cast is great. De Niro and Pfeiffer seem to be having a lot of fun, while Diana Agron ("Glee"), as Fred's daughter, is fun to watch when she's beating the snot out of French boys who think they can take advantage of the dumb American girl, but she's less believable when forced to show some emotion over a boy who breaks her heart. John D'Leo plays the youngest of the family, a future schemer who has fun manipulating his new French classmates to the point of getting into some serious legal trouble.
Director Luc Besson has a difficult time balancing the humor and the action, but a lot of that blame goes to the script, which Besson co-wrote with Michael Caleo. There are a lot of funny scenes, but the movie is also extremely violent, in an over the top going for comic shock kinda way.
"The Family" plays like a sequel to a movie that hasn't been made yet, with its back story and characterization assuming you've seen enough gangster movies to understand everyone's motives. It's funny, but it never delivers on what it could have been, and sadly settles for being an inferior gangster movies in the shadows of every movie its trying to parody.
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