Luc Besson isn't exactly the world's most subtle filmmaker, but Besson really plays up the Mr. Obvious approach with his latest film The Family by casting Robert De Niro as, you guessed it, a mobster. In this case, De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a one-time mafia kingpin turned snitch now living not so comfortably in the federal witness protection program with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), son Warren (John D'Leo), and daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) under the watchful eye of Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones).
It's probably not going to surprise you a whole lot that the Manzoni's have a hard time adjusting to life in the witness protection program - you know, with it's rules and all. Despite their best efforts over their six years in the program, the Manzoni's keep blowing their cover because they, well, keep resolving their conflicts the old fashioned way.
Director Luc Besson certainly has an eye for the visual and has certainly proven himself to be a gifted action director, but in this wannabe farce every weakness he has as a director rises to the surface and even when it starts to feel like The Family is going somewhere Besson seems to have an uncanny knack for squelching every bit of potential from the film.
The Family flirts with the idea of being an actual dark comedy, especially when we're watching the pointless but more interesting storylines involving Warren and Belle, but there's a self-awareness that constantly plagues the film and a tone that's less consistent than Michelle Pfeiffer's faux Italian accent. There are several points in the film where you get the distinct feeling that De Niro signed on for the film precisely because he saw an underlying potential for a meatier and more substantial production than Besson creates. De Niro could play Gio in his sleep, but to his credit he doesn't do so and despite his familiarity in this type of role he's still a source of a good amount of the film's winning moments.
The same can't be said for Pfeiffer, who has been experiencing a bit of a career resurgence lately, but whose performance here pales in comparison to her similar efforts in Married to the Mob and Scarface. Pfeiffer's accent is both too obvious and wildly inconsistent, while she also has a couple scenes that are so screechingly histrionic that you may actually need to cover your ears to get through them.
D'Leo, on the other hand, serves up mischievous fun as Warren, who quickly learns the ins and outs of his new school and uses them to his full advantage. Glee's Dianna Agron seems an odd choice as Belle, whose kick-ass style blasting of an ill-meaning quartet of local boys is quite a bit of fun but whose totally out of left field crush on a teacher feels forced and lacking in conviction.
The Family isn't an awful film.
The Family is simply a predictable film completely lacking in originality and filled to the brim with paper-thin caricatures and cultural stereotypes that would be offensive had Besson decided to do anything remotely edgy. There are a few laughs to be found and a couple of scenes that show enough spark that you realize just how good a film this could have been with a bit more commitment to plot and character development.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic