Austin reviews Luc Besson’s first live-action American film in 14 years, THE FAMILY!!!

family

Remember Luc Besson?  Remember when he actually directed movies?  This director is most famous for making films like LA FEMME NIKITA, SUBWAY, THE BIG BLUE, THE PROFESSIONAL and THE FIFTH ELEMENT.   He stumbled when he made THE MESSENGER (which I still haven’t seen) and then retreated back to France where he made smaller movies.  I loved ANGEL-A, but I never saw his ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES series.  Last year he came out with THE LADY, his first straight drama.  But mostly, he’s been busy just producing and writing B-grade action films like THE TRANSPORTER series and the TAKEN series.  When I heard he was making a mafia comedy starring Robert De Niro, I got pretty pumped.  This is his first American film in over 14 years.  It was kind of a big deal for me.

Robert De Niro plays a former mafia boss who snitched on his mob partners.  He and his family are in the witness protection program.  They are now in a small town in Normandy, but they keep on getting relocated because they always do something that could give them away.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays the wife who has a problem blowing up supermarkets.  The daughter is a horny little chick who beats up on the local boys trying to rape her but is all hot for her nerdy student teacher.  And then the son is a 14 year old con artist.  There is also Tommy Lee Jones who plays the agent assigned to the family.  Most of the movie just shows how this family can’t function in normal society as De Niro beats plumbers up who can’t fix the brown water coming out of the faucet, and other fish-out-of-water type stuff.  The movie builds to an action climax as the mob finds the family’s location and tries to take them all out.

This is attempting to be an action/comedy.  There are some effective action scenes.  There are also some effective comical scenes.  However, these elements don’t often mix well together, which make for an often awkward viewing experience.  It’s not all that unenjoyable either.  My 10-year-old daughter actually called it “an enjoyable” movie.  And it certainly can be fun at times.  But it’s not consistent enough for me to recommend wholly.

The action is the stuff that Besson does best, and there are some solidly crafted action set pieces.  Most notably, the finale, which has every member of the family taking out at least some of the bad guys with various different weapons.  This is all done in a darkly violent comic book fashion.  It even comes across cartoonish at times, and that was kind of fun.  However, there are other times in the movie when it tries really hard to be dramatic, and that’s where the movie struggles.  One moment, we’re laughing at De Niro shoving a guy head first in a vat of acid, the next, we’re supposed to be concerned when the daughter threatens to throw herself off of a building.  I don’t know man.  That just didn’t sit well with me.

Robert De Niro appears to be having a grand ole’ time here.  This is the most energetic I’ve seen him since ANALYZE THIS.  It’s a fun performance.  Pfeiffer doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but she gives it her enthusiastic best.  I really wanted to love Tommy Lee Jones here, but he doesn’t seem to be that interested in the movie.  He’s delivering a “MEN IN BLACK 2″ performance here.  Meaning, cashing a paycheck.  The supporting cast, however, is cartoonishly energetic, adding life to the movie.

Besson still has what it takes when it comes to creating interesting shots.  But his story is a little muddled.  At least the tone is.  I know he was trying to mix comedy and action, and sometimes it works.  GET SHORTY is a good example of it working.  And I think this is the type of vibe that this was going for, along with GROSSE POINTE BLANK.  But those movies were a little more successful at meshing the two dramatically different tones.  However, the music by Evgueni & Sacha Galperine has a terrific Italian flavor that is playful just as much as it can be sinister.  My daughter actually called attention to the music first.

I really wanted to love this movie.  Heck, I would even accept liking this movie.  But I didn’t.  Now, I didn’t hate it.  There are several individual moments that I got a kick out of.  De Niro is a hoot to watch, and the action scenes are a ton of fun.  Unfortunately, the movie just couldn’t find the right tone to be wholly successful.  It’s a nice try, though.  ★★½ (out of ★★★★)

- Rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality.

- Running time: 1hr 51min.

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Categories: Austin Kennedy, Reviews

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