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.