In his long and storied career Robert De Niro has made some stone cold classics, won Oscars and made the saying “You talkin’ to me?” a standard punchline for impressionists and psychopaths everywhere.
He’s also made lots of movies like “The Family.”
They’re what I call “new roof” films. Every now and again actors take on work for reasons other than artistic. Say, for instance, when they need a new roof on their castle in the South of France.
“The Family” feels like one of those movies. He’s still Booby D, so he isn’t terrible, neither is his co-star Michelle Pfeiffer, who brings back fond memories of “Married to the Mob,” but the film teases us with visions of De Niro in gangster mode and let’s us down with a paint-by-numbers story.
It’s a basic fish out of water story with a gangland twist. The Manzoni’s, Maggie (Pfeiffer), Belle (Diane Argon), Warren (John D’Leo) and father, hit man turned stoolie Giovanni (De Niro), have spent years in the witness protection program, moving from place to place, overseen by an FBI handler (Tommy Lee Jones). Their newest home is a sleepy little town in Normandy where they try and fit in.
Trouble is, they don’t blend.
The kids take after dad. Belle is a bruiser who beats up her classmates and Warren runs rackets in his school hallways. Maggie has a way with explosives and Giovanni, well, let’s just say you don’t want to get one his bad side. They are living proof that “the family that slays together, stays together.”
Stateside the people he betrayed are on the look out for Giovanni and family with revenge on their minds.
In one of the film’s pivotal moments Giovanni attends a film club screening of (MILD SPOILER) of “Goodfellas.” The mere mention of Martin Scorsese—De Niro’s collaborator on eight films since 1973—only reinforces how lame this movie is. De Niro has a rapturous look on his face as he watches the movie in the movie, as though longing for the good old days when Hollywood still made good gangster pictures. Or at least mob movies that didn’t rely on stereotypes to sell the sadistic dark humor.
Before “The Family” turns into a bullet orgy, it contains a few tense moments but fails to deliver on the comedy or any fresh gangland drama.
I hope De Niro at least got a nice new roof out of the deal.
For every serious mafia drama like Carlito’s Way, there is another film that doesn’t take the La Cosa Nostra as seriously.
Gangster comedies like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight and Some Like It Hot are early examples of gangland gigglers.
This weekend Robert De Niro, who won an Oscar playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II, and Michelle Pfeiffer, who played a gangster’s moll in Scarface, team up for The Family, a darkly comedic mafia movie.
The film also features Sopranos’ star Dominic “Junior Soprano” Chianese and Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore in a story about notorious crime family the Manzoni’s, who find themselves relocated to Normandy, France as part of the witness protection program. Trouble is, they have some difficulty blending in with the locals.
This isn’t the first time De Niro has played his tough guy image for laughs. In Analyze This and its sequel Analyze That, he’s Paul Vitti, a mob boss who suffers from panic attacks. To help him through he hires psychiatrist Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal). “What is my goal here?” asks the doctor. “To make you a happy, well-adjusted gangster?” The first movie was a big hit—both commercially and critically but the second one didn’t fare as well. Roger Ebert wrote, “what seemed like a clever idea the first time feels like a retread the second.”
In the Whole Nine Yards former hit man Jimmy the Tulip has trouble adapting to life on the right side of the law. As played by Bruce Willis he’s in hiding after ratting out members of Chicago’s deadly Gogolak gang. When his identity is discovered by his neighbor (Matthew Perry) Jimmy has to reluctantly revert to old habits to survive. “It’s not important how many people I’ve killed,” he says. “What’s important is how I get along with the people who are still alive.”
Years before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies became an unexpected literary hit, Hollywood co-opted the marquee value of Jane Austin’s name. Director Jim Abrahams of Naked Gun and Top Secret fame, looked to the underworld for the inspiration of Jane Austin’s Mafia. A spoof movie that draws heavily on Martin Scorsese’s Casino (and not so much on Austin’s oeuvre) it marked Lloyd Bridges’ last appearance on the big screen, playing a Mafia godfather. A quick watch, the film runs for a scant 84 minutes, six of which are taken up with credits.