The Family Movie Review
Despite a promising trailer and a great cast, this French-American comedy-thriller is a complete misfire because Luc Besson seems unclear about how to create a black comedy. He merely mixes silliness and violence, but the script is so lazy that it's neither funny nor suspenseful. With the talent on screen we keep hoping everything will come together at some point, but it never does.
It's set in Normandy, where the Manzoni family has just moved after another disastrous attempt at witness relocation. They snitched on the mob back in America, and are having a tough time blending with locals anywhere. Even here, Fred (De Niro) gets a little too frustrated with a plumber while Maggie (Pfeiffer) doesn't take insults lying down, and their kids Belle and Warren (Agron and D'Leo) quickly take over the system at their new school. Their handler Stansfield (Jones) is doing his best, but it can't belong before what they are up to gets them noticed back home.
For a French movie, this is oddly packed with negative French stereotypes, from the ugly casting to the locals' backwards technology (only the Americans have mobile phones). And everyone speaks English with a silly accent. But then the script is packed with head-scratching inconsistencies and far-fetched touches. We never believe a single element of the plot, which leaves these solid actors looking lost on screen. De Niro, Pfeiffer and Jones have at least played these characters before, so know how to punch the comedy notes.
But it's the awkward mixture of humour and violence that throws everything off balance. Instead of being cheeky about it, Besson indulges in bloodthirsty grisliness, then tries to drag us into either a slapstick laugh or a sentimental dramatic moment. And some elements, such as an extended GoodFellas gag, are just painful to watch. So we simply don't believe any of it, aside from the fact that it's so formulaic that we know exactly where it's heading. With a lighter touch, this might have been a blackly funny romp, but Besson's heavy hand leaves us feeling bruised.