A few scenes in the new dramedy The Family reference one of Robert De Niro’s great mob dramas. De Niro has appeared in a lot of great mob movies, so I won’t spoil which one is talked about here. What I will spoil is the fact that this new picture, which stars De Niro as a gangster-turned-informant and seeks to pay homage to great mob movies of the past, is an utter waste of time.
Featuring a familiar subject and an iconic actor is not enough for a movie to come to life, and The Family is ultimately as lifeless and dull as any number of the characters whacked during its bloated running time.
De Niro stars as Fred Blake (admittedly not his real name), a violent but ultimately pitiful former mobster. Along with his two children (played by Dianna Agron and John D’Leo) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), he’s in the witness protection program but is ill-suited for such a calm and relaxing life. When a plumber drones on for too long, Blake is all too eager to viciously attack him and leave him in the hospital.
But that’s what the Blakes do. One of the film’s gags is that the whole family is in the witness protection program but that program hasn’t changed their mindsets at all. The family has moved to France and are immediately vengeful towards the locals. When Blake’s wife overhears some negative talk about Americans at a grocery story, she blows it up. When their daughter has a bag stolen at school, she finds the culprit and attacks her nonchalantly in the girl’s bathroom.
The list of “incidents” goes on and on but the “comedy” attached to it quickly loses its value. There are only so many times you can watch these individuals attack their new neighbors without wondering why the witness protection officials don’t step in.
As we’re told, the family has a pattern of doing these things time and again.
Tommy Lee Jones appears as the Blakes’ main contact in witness protection. The Oscar-winning actor is given little to do here except sigh and look disappointed as the Blakes continue their reign of terror on anyone who aggravates them.
Aside from the set-up, there’s little plot here except for the fact that one of the guys that Fred ratted on is coming back to get him. In one of the film’s most ludicrous moments (believe me, there are many), a school newsletter that Fred’s son contributed to finds its way back to the United States and to a prison, where a random quote used in a story gets the mob all antsy about finding the Blakes and killing them.
At times, the film feels like a comedy but there are few laughs in it. And the unmistakably graphic violence indicates a more serious tone. Whatever its genre though, this unmistakable misfire is surely one of the year’s worst films. There’s just so little redeeming about it and it clocks in just under two hours. Added in to this misery is an inane love story featuring Blakes’ daughter romancing and sleeping with a math teacher. There are few stupid places that this movie doesn’t go.
The question is will an audience be going with them? Let’s hope not. This family deserves to be left alone.