By Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
(CBS) — “The Family” is a grade-D “mob” comedy with a script so dire you’ll wish a hit man had come to put the beleaguered screenwriters out of their misery before perpetrating this crime against laughter on a nation that should know better than to see something like this.
Out to prove that his performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” was the exception and not the rule, a noticeably slower and sleepwalking Robert De Niro lets a scruffy beard do most of the work and barely summons the effort to act. He’s a mob boss who snitched on the family to save his own skin and now is hiding out in the witness protection program in a series of out-of-the-way hellholes abroad.
But the joke is he and his mob wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and two children can’t leave their old ways of solving problems behind. So we get the hilarious sight of De Niro beating a plumber nearly to death with a baseball bat because his water comes out brown (ho ho!). Or Pfeiffer blowing up a supermarket because a French clerk made a snide comment about Americans (tee hee!) Or how about their racketeering son deducing every shady deal going on in the halls of his new high school in less time than it takes you to make a bag of microwave popcorn and then muscling his way in on a piece of the action?
The only actor who salvages a shred of dignity is Tommy Lee Jones, as the FBI agent assigned to keep getting De Niro and his family out of trouble. He looks like he would rather be someplace else, but uses his gruff impatience to his advantage.
De Niro spends most of his time writing his memoirs and using his own persuasive methods to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with his French plumbing. Pfeiffer is pumping the FBI agents for information with her pasta and atoning for her sins in an embarrassing scene with a French priest. Meanwhile, a group of mob hit men so cartoonish they look like they stepped out of Hanna-Barbera is on his trail to avenge the mob boss he ratted out.
Busting heads is a young man’s game. And while he appears to smack around every no good punk in the entire French countryside we rarely see the actor actually do anything. The camera starts in a close-up of his face and then cuts away the moment the action starts. At times he brings to mind a clearly over- the- hill Roger Moore from the later Bond movies, where even the youngest fan could tell the stuntman was doing all of the work.
The movie was written and directed by French shlockmeister Luc Besson, and features some plot points so ludicrous and jaw-droppingly hard to believe they make even “Taken 2” seem like a documentary by comparison. This is the kind of “Family” you don’t want to spend time with unless there’s a gun to your head.