Robert DeNiro seems extremely uncomfortable being interviewed while promoting his new film, "The Family." Are we to take that as an indication of what to expect? Let's put it this way, it's not the best film he's ever made but it's not the worst.
DeNiro plays Giovanni Manzoni, the patriarch of a family who has been placed in the witness protection program. There's a $20-million bounty on his head for having snitched on the mob back in Brooklyn. The Manzoni family doesn't stay in any one place for very long. They have a peculiar way of dealing with life's little problems. Bad habits are hard to break.
A quiet little town in Normandy, France is the site for their latest geographical digs. In less than a week, Giovanni has taken a baseball bat to a not-so-honest plumber. His wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), blows up a grocery market after having been demeaned by the owner. His daughter, Belle (Dianna Agron), uses a tennis racket to bloody the face of a guy trying to hit on her. And son, Warren (John D'Leo), has been dishing out some serious justice to bullies at school. It runs in the family.
All the while, FBI handler Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is keeping tabs on them but the Manzoni's are a creatively elusive bunch. When they blow their cover in the most innocuous manner, the hit is out. The film takes a turn from dark humor to all out mayhem. It's bloody fun.
Director-writer Luc Besson ("The Professional") is known for his unique visual style and not shying away from violence. In "The Family" he proves that his sense of humor is finely honed. Throughout the film he references Martin Scorsese and, surprisingly, it works really well from a comedic standpoint. In one particular scene Giovanni is asked to help critique "Some Came Running" at the local film society's get together. When, instead, they receive "Goodfellas," Giovanni has plenty to say after the screening. The tongue-in-cheek, joke-within-a-joke is hilarious.
DeNiro, known for being very private, may have just been true to form during the promotional tour. But his last two films, "The Big Wedding" (major flop) and "The Killing Season" (straight to video) were hugely disappointing. Odds are he won't be receiving an Oscar for "The Family," but there's nothing better than watching Robert DeNiro removing a body from the trunk of a car. This time around, it's really funny.
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