Taking a page from one of the villains from his “Taken” series, Luc Besson kidnapped the families of Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones. Sadly, kidnapping wasn’t his most heinous offense. That would be forcing them to appear in his abominable wretch of a film, “The Family.”
It’s the only narrative imaginable that makes sense for three supremely talented actors to waste their time in one of the year’s most infuriating films.
Granted, it’s been a few years since he wowed us with 1994’s “Leon: The Professional,” but it’s astonishing to see Besson fall so far from his excellent action/drama to making something that’s such a boring chore to sit through.
Besson and Michael Caleo adapt Tonino Benacquista’s “Badefellas” novel, but they’re tone deaf in terms of making the black comedy anything close to amusing, let alone entertaining.
Giovanni Manzoni (a bored De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”) has stooged off his fellow mob pals and is living an aimless witness protection existence with his wife, Maggie (Pfeiffer, “People Like Us”) and his surprisingly well-adjusted teenagers Belle (a vampy Dianna Agron, “Glee”) and Warren (John D’Leo, “Brooklyn’s Finest”).
The family has just been relocated to Normandy, France with hopes of fitting in a little longer than their norm.
Now going by “Fred Blake,” Giovanni begins typing his memoirs and finding new ways to work around the reasonable protection rules of his CIA protector, Stansfield (“Lincoln’s” Tommy Lee Jones). Jones seems more crotchety than usual, which I wonder if it was because he read the script for the first time each day of shooting.
Maggie seeks a hint of normalcy at the church and baking for the two other CIA watchdogs (Pfeiffer remains a pleasure to watch as she dusts off her “Married to the Mob” accent). While Belle develops a crush on her math instructor, Warren prepares to enter the family “business.” D’Leo has the most engaging subplot and his scenes are at least mildly interesting.
Played straight, the story has a lot of potential — how would a mob family deal with a world so far removed from their own? — but Besson and Caleo try to add humorous elements that simply aren’t funny.
Too many scenes have the same payoff Someone bothers the Blakes and they savagely beat them. It’s kinda funny the first 2-3 times, but when that’s the only way the family handles conflict, it gets old real quick. And looming in a subplot just bound to be resolved by the conclusion, a group of mob henchmen are killing everyone in their path trying to track the Blakes down.
It’s a desperate attempt to make you care about the Blakes, but Besson and Caleo could have actually just spent more time in worthwhile character development instead of just opting for senseless violence.
Besson shows a rare display of inspiration, just before someone lands their final punch/killing shot, he shifts scenes to focus on another character. It’s a nice trick even if he overuses it. At least Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s score is pleasant.
There was a really enjoyable funny “family with a secret” comedy released this year so if you already haven’t, definitely check out “We’re the Millers.”
As for “The Family?” It’s as bad as spending quality time with that annoying relative telling you how much better things were back in the day, but in the case of this movie they’d actually be right.
Rating: 1 out of 10