By Chaz Lipp
Imagine a broadly farcical sequel to Goodfellas, one that follows Henry Hill after he’s forced to live the rest of his life like a “schnook.” That’s the basic premise of Luc Besson’s mean-spirited comedy The Family. Having Robert De Niro star as Giovanni Manzoni, an aging mobster trying to hide his family from a powerful Mafia boss, is as obvious as it is uninspired.
Twenty-five years after Married to the Mob, Michelle Pfeiffer returns to the organized crime genre as Giovanni’s wife, Maggie. Their high school-aged kids, seductress Belle (27-year-old Dianna Agron, too old for the role) and ultra-enterprising Warren (John D’Leo), grow tired of moving every time their father draws attention to the family.
Despite a few stylish visual flourishes, The Family falls flat on its schizophrenic face. Unable to decide whether he was directing a drama or a comedy, Besson settled on queasily sadistic mix that provokes no sympathy for the characters or any real laughs. For some unfathomable reason, Tommy Lee Jones signed on to play the FBI agent who heads up the witness protection team that shuttles the Manzoni family around. Jones has almost nothing to do, turning up periodically to remind Giovanni what a pain in the ass he is. This time the family is based in Normandy, France, supposedly keeping a low profile. Giovanni works on his memoirs while Maggie blows up a grocery store because the clerk made fun of her for wanting peanut butter.
If The Family had dropped all the Mafia clichés (and meta-references, chuckle-worthy as they may occasionally be) and simply been about a family of four violent sociopaths, maybe Besson would’ve had something more novel. Each of the four family members is so unhinged (Belle beats another student within a breath of her life for stealing a pencil case), there’s nothing redeeming about them. That would be fine if their actions were genuinely amusing, but belabored subplots like Giovanni tracking the source of their brown tap water are deadweight. Sorry, seeing an unassuming plumber – guilty of nothing, not even obnoxiousness – get crippled with a sledgehammer just doesn’t tickle my funny bone.
Don Luchese (Stan Carp) and his goons continue tracking the Manzoni family. The lucky break that leads them to France is one of the cleverest plot devices in the film. And once Besson moves past a slow set-up, the story skips along at a fairly brisk pace. Maybe one’s tolerance for watching innocent bystanders get gunned down in the name of “black comedy” is directly proportionate to one’s ability to truly enjoy The Family. Only for the hardest-core fans of Besson or De Niro (if there are any of those left, considering how thinly the once-great actor has spread what remains of his talent over the last couple decades).