Film review: The Family (15, 111 min)

The Family: Robert De Niro
The Family: Robert De Niro
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The Family that preys together – steer clear

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.

In an orgy of cartoonish violence The Family razes one sleepy corner of Normandy in its ham-fisted pursuit of big bangs and laughs.

This is a far cry from the propulsive energy and intense emotions of Besson’s hit man thriller, Leon, which starred Jean Reno and a smouldering, Lolita-esque Natalie Portman.

The family of Fred (Robert De Niro), long-suffering wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their teenage children Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo), arrive at their new ramshackle home in the dead of night.

“Do we still have the same name?” Warren asks.

“No, now we’re the Blake family,” she reminds him.

It transpires the exhausted quartet are the Manzonis of Brooklyn, placed in witness protection under the supervision of FBI handler Robert Stansfield.

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 via 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 studentm who is the object of every hormone-addled classmate’s fantasies.

Like the dysfunctional clan at the film’s black 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 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 arm’s length from Giovanni and his brood when we should be warming to them before Don Luchese’s army of assassins descends on their hiding place, armed to the hilt.

Stars De Niro, Jones and Pfieffer have all seen better days, and will again. All go through the motions with a weariness that suggests their minds are elsewhere.

Comedy/Action/Romance. Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Tommy Lee Jones, Jimmy Palumbo, Domenick Lombardozzi, Stan Carp, Jon Freda. Director: Luc Besson.

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