Dysfunctional ‘Family’ a slog in execution

By Karsten Burgstahler


You may have never heard his name, but Luc Besson has been behind some of the most ruthlessly efficient action films of the new millennium. While he may not have directed them, he produced films like “Taken” and “The Transporter,” both of which are short and to the point.

So it’s a bit surprising that his newest directorial effort, “The Family” (Rated R; 110 min.) takes quite a while to go anywhere at all. “Family” stars Robert De Niro as a mobster (what a brilliant career move!) who, along with his family, has been in witness protection for several years. He snitched on his criminal cohorts. Why he did it and why he snitched on them is never explained — one of the many annoyances I have with the script.


De Niro’s family, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron and John D’Leo, is used to this life now. The two kids have devised a system to run any school they attend. But the family’s old habits die hard, and the audience is given scenes of De Niro beating up his plumber and Pfeiffer blowing up a grocery store because the owners mocked her. Tommy Lee Jones plays the family’s tired handler, and even he seems to have reached a new level of boredom

Much of the film concerns the family settling into their new home. But in between the scenes of extreme violence played for awkward laughs, which work only to jolt the audience back into paying attention, the movie severely lags. Besson’s quick pace is all but lost here. I wouldn’t even call this a slow-burn thriller. It’s pretty clear from the beginning how the movie is going to end, and when De Niro’s clan finally faces off with the motive-unclear mob, the movie gets its one spark of excitement. But then the fight is over, and so is the movie.

The performances in “The Family” are best described as serviceable. De Niro’s character is taking time to write his memoirs, which might spoil the family’s cover and I suspect is supposed to be a metaphor for De Niro looking back on his own career. But like a man near retirement, De Niro seems to only be in this for the paycheck. Pfeiffer has been out of the limelight for quite some time and seems to have more fun here than does De Niro or Jones, but her performance fails to ignite the movie.

You’ve seen the “fish-out-of-water” movie before, and this movie is a more violent iteration of the same old, same old. The jarring violence and dead-on-arrival black humor do little to spice up the rote plot. Some of the interplay between the characters is enjoyable, but not nearly enough to justify drawing out the otherwise simple plot. “The Family” just isn’t as witty or sharp as it could have been. This is one that would be better off sleeping with the fishes.