The Family (15)

Comedy (2013)
111mins US/Fr

Starring: John D'Leo, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron
Director: Luc Besson
Writer(s): Luc Besson, Michael Caleo
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Fred Blake arrives at his new home - a ramshackle house in Normandy - with his wife Maggie and teenager children, 17-year-old Belle and 14-year-old Warren, in tow. While Maggie investigates the local supermarket and the children acclimatise to their new school, Fred sits down at his typewriter and begins to dictate his memoirs. He is really a Brooklyn criminal called Giovanni Manzoni, who snitched on crime boss Don Luchese and is now in the witness protection program.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Family

Built on the robust foundations of last year's opening salvo, Catching Fire is a lean and muscular sequel, which strikes a pleasing balance between brawn and brains...

The family that slays together stays together - with a degree of reluctance - in Luc Besson's twisted black comedy based on a book by Tonino Benacquista. Punctuated by scenes of cartoonish violence including an explosive bout of supermarket rage, The Family razes one sleepy corner of Normandy in its ham-fisted pursuit of big bangs and laughs. It's a far, desperate cry from the propulsive energy and intense emotions of Besson's hit man thriller, Leon, starring Jean Reno and a smouldering, Lolita-esque Natalie Portman.

The family in question comprises Fred (Robert De Niro), his long-suffering wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two children, 17-year-old Belle (Dianna Agron) and 14-year-old Warren (John D'Leo), who arrive at their new ramshackle home in the dead of night. "Do we still have the same name?" Warren asks his mother. "No, now we're the Blake family," she reminds him. It transpires that the exhausted quartet are the Manzonis from Brooklyn, who have been placed in witness protection under the supervision of FBI handler Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and his stooges, Di Cicco (Jimmy Palumbo) and Caputo (Domenick Lombardozzi). Giovanni snitched on fellow mobster Don Luchese (Stan Carp) and his family has been on the run ever since, moving from one location to the next to avoid a shallow grave. While the patriarch disgorges his memoirs using an old typewriter and Maggie seeks absolution from the local priest (Christopher Craig), the kids acclimatise to their new school. Warren creates a domino rally of scams to outwit the bullies while Belle decides to relinquish her virginity to a college student, who is the object of every hormone-addled classmate's fantasies.

Like the dysfunctional clan at the film's blackened heart, The Family pretends to be one thing - a giddy whirl of action, thriller and romance - but turns out to be something else entirely: an unholy mess. Tonal shifts, which Besson accomplished with elan in his earlier pictures, are awkward and jarring like a first-time driver grinding through the gears. The chief culprit is the script, co-written by Michael Caleo, which gives only a cursory glance to the characters. We are kept at arms' length from Giovanni and his brood when we should be warming to them before Don Luchese's army of trench coat-clad assassins descends on their hiding place, armed to the hilt with guns and missiles. Oscar winners De Niro and Jones have seen better days, and will again. Both go through the motions with a weariness that suggests their minds are elsewhere, while Pfeiffer's hot-headed matriarch has just one discernible quality: wizardry in the kitchen with pasta. Considering the film is set in a region famous for its gastronomic specialities, her glory days of tossing al dente penne in fresh tomato sauce are surely numbered.

- Jo Planter

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