Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron
Mamma mia, what a messy stufato. The latest gift to the cinema in eight years from director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional), The Family is a dark comedy is a gangster movie is a romance is a satire is a culture class is a blood-spattered revenge melodrama. Those moods, tones and genres often coexist from moment to moment within the same scene, and when handled by a master, they can be thrilling. Let’s be kind and say that this time around, Besson doesn’t show a talent on par with that of, say, John Huston’s in directing the funny, acidic 1985 movie Prizzi’s Honor or Billy’s Wilder’s in handling Some Like It Hot, let alone peak-era Martin Scorsese, who not only produced The Family but whose work is also embarrassingly referenced in it more than once.
What we get is a flat, one-note, tone-deaf movie, coscripted by Besson and Michael Caleo from Tonino Benacquista’s novel Malavita. In a gated villa in a sleepy town in northern France, the witness protection program secrets a troublesome mob family—jolly, vicious psychopaths, every single one of them. They include a disgraced Mafia don played by Robert De Niro, his lethal, pasta-making wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their pretty, twisted teenage kids (John D’Leo and Glee’s 27-year-old Dianna Agron, still playing a high school student). They’re a noisy, boisterous, loving bunch, to each other, anyway. But let one of them so much as get snubbed by a snooty French grocer, get thrashed by a high school bully or be kept waiting by a money-grubbing plumber and out come the guns, handsaws, tennis rackets and anything else on which they can lay their practiced hands. By the time assassins descend upon the town to hunt the family down, they’ve become so hateful that you’re almost hoping they’ll be laid to waste. The jokes fall flat, the tone is mean-spirited and the mayhem is astonishingly ugly, especially when innocent characters are casually and deliberately massacred, apparently just for being French. Oh, what merriment.
There’s some good stuff to help pull you through the two-plus irritating hours of floundering and unearned nastiness, like the sly work done by Michelle Pfeiffer, who earned her Mafia cred back in the days of Married to the Mob and Scarface. De Niro could have phoned this one in, but he is lively and shaded, and D’Leo charms as the scam artist son. But The Family deserves to sleep with the fishes.