French director Luc Besson presents ill-fated cross-genre movieFriday, January 17, 2014
The Family: Bring Good Fellas Back!
For the Herald
In New York, mobster Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) makes a deal with FBI agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and snitches his mafia family. In return, Giovanni is included in the witness protection programme and receives a new identity as Fred Blake. Giovanni, together with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their teenager children Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo), are relocated to the small town Cholong-sur-Avres, in Normandy, under the protection of Stansfield and two other agents. Meanwhile, the mafia offers a US$20 million reward to the killer that executes Giovanni and his family.
French director Luc Besson’s good days are long gone; you’d have to think of his first films, meaning The Big Blue (1998), Nikita (1990), and The Professional (1994) to find some true talent — The Fifth Element (1997) was visually alluring, but it was nothing but a lame rip-off of previous great science fiction films, whereas Joan of Arc (1999) also looked impressive, but it was downright soulless and ultimately anecdotic. From then on, Besson’s films ranked from mediocre to bad with a capital B. So there was actually no reason to expect that The Family was going to be any good. To be honest, I bet it’s going to be one the worst films to be locally released this year.
For starters, the idea of a Mafia guy having to get used to a small, unknown place should have made for some laughs (even if it’s not what you’d call an original idea), but the more the film attempts to become a black comedy, the more it fails pitifully. And for a very, very simple reason: nearly all gags and “funny” situations are so predictably overworked that it’s hard to believe any director can truly think this stuff can make viewers with a brain laugh. The idea of having the members of the family act like, precisely, mobsters in order to fulfil their desires is not necessarily dumb. But how many beatings, explosions, tortures and smacking can you take until it becomes a merely repetitive show off? These characters, so to speak, do not have real personalities, and they aren’t successful, engaging stereotypes either. So what’s left?
To make matters worse, The Family jumps around a lot with no convincing explanations. The characters surf along so many plot holes that you are left wondering where they are, what they are doing, and what’s going on. The screenplay aims poorly at giving each character their own story, but when their stories switch back and forth, don’t be surprised if you end up in the middle of a climactic scene not knowing how the story got there. Let alone that the whole population of a small village in France speak a nearly perfect English with an American accent. When The Family doesn’t try to be a comedy, it has ambitions of being a thriller, sometimes even an action-packed one. Granted, there’s some style and some energy here, but it wears off very soon as the film also wants to be a sincere drama. Talk about ill-fated genre crossbreeding. Sadly, there’s also a lengthy reference to Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) as if to slap the audience in the face with the reminder that De Niro once starred in some of the greatest mafia movies ever. Even worse, Scorsese himself is one of the executive producers of The Family. Go figure.
Malavita / The Family / Una familia peligrosa (USA, 2013) Directed by Luc Besson. Screenplay by Luc Besson, Michael Caleo. Cast: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones. Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast. Editing by Julien Rey. Music by Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine. Produced by Jason Beckman, Luc Besson, Martin Scorsese. Runtime: 111 minutes.