'The Family' marks Besson's return to realm of action

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star in "The Family." SOURCE SUBMITTED
September 22, 2013

Director Luc Besson had garnered much love from ardent fanboys and critics alike in the '90s with a few iconic, action films: “La Femme Nikita,” “The Professional” (also known as “Leon: The Professional” and “The Fifth Element.” Between those films and writing such hits as “The Transporter” and “Taken,” he had established even more name recognition.

But his ill-conceived bloated epic “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc,” sent him retreating the following years to more serious-minded, art-house fodder and children’s animated films.

“The Family” marks his return to the realm of action, both behind the laptop as writer and in the chair as director. After he secured Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones in the cast, things began to get interesting. Could this be the film that collectively lifts all its lead stars’ rather crippled careers?

Short answer? Not a chance.

In fact, this confused, lifeless, meandering mess will only serve as more shovels of soil on top of their sinking resumes. It’s an action comedy that is as unfunny as it is dull. DeNiro plays a former gangster who is sent with his clan to Normandy under the Witness Relocation Program. Within days of their arrival, the entire family begins wreaking havoc throughout the quaint countryside. Mom (played by Pfeiffer), proving to be just as sociopathic as her husband, doesn’t like the feeling she’s being mocked at a local supermarket (she apparently does not know a lick of French, so she only assumes they are talking about her), so she blows it up, with innocent patrons inside.

The kids fare no better at school. The young son (played by John D’Leo) is beaten to a pulp within minutes merely for being American. He responds by establishing an intricate black market web throughout the school and gets protection from some of the beefier schoolkids. Their daughter (played by Dianna Agron) nearly pummels a suitor to death, then starts an affair with a visiting graduate student who she deliriously believes is her true love.

De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni or Fred Blake, who continues to resolve each and every issue with extreme violence that is apparently supposed to be played for laughs because, well, he’s Robert De Niro! A plumber shows up late for an appointment? That deserves a vicious clubbing with a bat and mallet. Having issues with a large corporation that is ruining the town’s water supply? Well, simply drag the owner down a gravelly road until he’s basically just a bloody heap only able to whisper an apology.

From scene to scene it drifts, tethered only by decent performances from its cast (though with De Niro’s lengthy resume in mob movies, it’s no real stretch). Nothing seems tied together here, between either scenes or characters, and yet they all seem to be at the right place at just the right time. Why include a dialogue-free, one-minute scene of Pfeiffer sipping a soda at the local McDonald’s? Why is the daughter, who is all about self-survival, so quick to contemplate ending it all? How did the kids get such Navy SEALS-like skills with weapons at such a young age? And why do all the teens in Normandy seem to suffer from some sort of outrageous explosion of odd-looking acne? Does ProActiv not deliver there?

None of it matters, as it is all meant to further the hairline plot to its tepid conclusion with little to none of the flair the director once displayed in film. Perhaps it was the inclusion of comedy that tripped him here, but he should stick to guns over guffaws.

There is a fish-out-of-water comedy to be made with this scenario. And it already has. It’s called “My Blue Heaven,” a light, bouncy comedy made way back in 1990 with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis. Instead of visiting with this “Family,” I suggest a reunion with that one.

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