Neither comedy nor drama, “The Family” is a combination of both that sometimes works when it decides what it wants to be.
Its odd combination of intense violence and brutality doesn’t always gel with its lighthearted approach to a family in the witness protection program.
The film is directed by Luc Besson, whose resume includes “The Transporter” franchise. He knows how to engage viewers in action, and that’s what makes the movie interesting. Make no mistake: This is not among Besson’s PG-13 offerings, but is rather an R-rated show for grownups only.
Robert DeNiro plays Gio, aka “Fred,” the patriarch who is a longtime member of the mob. Gio has become an informant, so he, along with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer, who also starred in “Married to the Mob” about 25 years ago) and two teen-age children have been relocated to a sleepy town in France.
Their daughter Belle (Dianna Argon, from TV’s “Glee”) and their son Warren (John D’Leo) face their first day of high school together.
But the family cannot, or will not, leave its mobster ways behind. Maggie feels disrespected in a grocery store, so she blows it up. Warren scopes out the social layout of the school right away, and it’s not long before he comes up with a plan to dispense with the bullies who begin tormenting him almost instantly. In a similar way, Belle viciously dispatches a girl who takes her pencil case as well as some boys whose “ride home” could have had dire consequences for a girl with lesser fighting skills.
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If you think Mom and the kids are merciless, wait until you see what happens when someone raises Dad’s ire. Gio’s vengeance is swift and physical. Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is exasperated by Gio and the rest of his family. He constantly begs them to keep a low profile, but that continues to be impossible. In fact, their trail of mayhem brings them to the attention of another mobster so intent on finding the family that he dispatches a troop of goons overseas.
Parts of the script, such as Gio’s sudden turn as a memoir writer, as well as a strange and unpleasant setup between Belle and a math teacher, seem to be thrown in as contrivances. The only part of the movie that’s really surprising is the clever way the family is brought to the attention of a nemesis. Otherwise it’s pretty standard stuff that soon will be off the big screen to make way for the serious Oscar contenders in the next few weeks.