If you feel like being nitpicky, there’s a whole lot wrong with director Luc Besson’s newest The Family. An angry, motivated person could write multiple reviews ranting about its bizarre usage of voiceovers and less than expert structure without ever repeating himself. But what’s the point of doing that when the film is actually kind of enjoyable? In spite of all its overt mistakes, The Family has more than its share of laughs and a clear likability. It’s not going to win any awards, but most people will leave the theater smiling. And that has to be considered a success.
It all starts with acting. By now, we’re all well aware Robert De Niro is damn good at playing mobsters. Here, he plays a Mafia snitch and not surprisingly, he’s very believable in the part. Even beyond that obvious and perfect casting, the supporting parts work just as well. Michelle Pfeiffer is the best she’s been in years as De Niro’s supportive and vindictive wife, and Tommy Lee Jones is underused but as good as ever as the FBI handler overwhelmed by the incompetence around him.
The film’s basic premise follows the titular family, The Blakes, as they move into a new house with new identities in Normandy, France. The father Fred (De Niro) testified against many of his former bosses and partners in a New York City Mafia family. There’s a $20 million bounty on his head, so, to keep him safe, the government shipped him and his family off to Europe. Unfortunately, all involved continue to act like homicidal maniacs, which requires assuming new identities every ninety days or so.
Many of the family’s struggles to assimilate and not act like out of control mobsters are pretty funny. The film fancies itself as a dark comedy, and it has no problem using assault, murder and depravity as good subject matter. Take son Warren (John D’Leo) and daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) as examples. It takes him all of a few days to turn his forgery skills into a black market racket inside his high school, and it takes her even less time to instill a new-found respect for women into a group of manipulative teenage boys. In its better moments, The Family is able to tread the line between exaggeration and absurdity to produce maximum laughs without losing its tether to reality.
In its worst moments, The Family is a bit of a hot mess. In addition to spending time on the wrong side of that aforementioned absurdity line, it also doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea how to tell its own backstory. It uses irregular De Niro voiceovers on occasion. It reads segments of a book on occasion. It even uses bad dreams and flashbacks, all of which, when used together, make the film seem disorganized and poorly put together. All of that, coupled with more than a few jokes that fall flat and a plot that’s windy and strangely paced keep The Family from being anything more than a likeable enough way to spend an hour and forty-five minutes.
I recommend The Family in the same way I might mint-flavored gum. It’s not what you would hope for, but when choosing at random, you’d do worse a little more often than not.