It’s official: Robert De Niro is having a bad year. Following up a magnificent 2011 in which he showed vintage chops in Being Flynn and Silver Linings Playbook, the multiple Oscar winner has turned in a pair of stinkers with The Big Wedding and now The Family. As displaced mafioso Giovanni Manzoni, hiding out in France with his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, sporting a bad Brooklyn accent) and children (Dianna Agron and John D’Leo) under witness protection, he’s given precious little to do. Having drawn unacceptable attention in Paris and the Riviera by resorting to their violent ways, the Manzonis are advised by Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) to lay low and gradually blend in to their new Normandy town.
And so the waiting game begins, mostly for a legitimate plot to take effect. In the meantime, Giovanni takes to typing his memoirs and through his audiobook-style narration, De Niro classically waxes about mob life as only he can. There’s also some amusement to his son’s quick assessment and don-like rise to running the local high school, but as with his daughter’s empty infatuation with a student teacher, it’s mostly marking time. It’s not until a ridiculous bit of movie magic that gives away their whereabouts to those Giovanni put in prison that the story truly gets rolling. Of course, this is following nearly 80 minutes of foot-dragging, after which director Luc Besson stuffs a full movie’s worth of action into a finale that’s both loud, ugly, and terribly predictable.
Before the bullet parade lets loose, however, The Family does all it can to distance itself from audience investment. Not helping its flimsy characters, the film’s score appears to be a variation on the intro to “Back That Thang Up” and an extremely awkward use of Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood” throws the works into train wreck territory. Around the time Damon Albarn’s voice shows up, the film also makes a self-referential move so idiotic that Besson’s sanity truly comes into question. As for De Niro playing along, one would think he would know better after his Boris quoted Travis Bickle in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, but he unfortunately does not. Instead, what’s left is a messy, overlong film (De Niro’s interminable Casino feels shorter) essentially about nothing. Other than the opportunity to work together and pretend that Besson is still in his ‘90s prime, it’s unclear why any of the cast would sign on to such a worthless project…or why anyone would buy a ticket to see the results.
Rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality.
The Family is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.