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Mob movie with French twist

DeNiro, Pfeiffer lead comically dangerous 'Family'

Sep. 13, 2013 - 03:51PM   |  
Trailer: 'The Family'
Trailer: 'The Family': In 'The Family', Robert De Niro plays a gangster who goes into witness protection after turning on his mob family. He and his immediate family relocate to France, but can't seem to shake their old habits.
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Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro are a sociopathic mob couple hiding out in France in 'The Family.' (Relativity Media)

Every family is dysfunctional in its own unique way. But there’s unique, and then there’s the Blake family.

That’s not their real name — you see, their patriarch, “Fred” (Robert DeNiro) is a former top mafia figure who rolled over on his family and is now in the witness protection program with a $20 million bounty placed on his head by his old confederates.

Fred, wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and teen kids Warren (John D’Leo) and Belle (Dianna Agron) are something of a singularity within the witness protection program, perpetually testing the patience of their fed handler, Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones).

In the six years since Fred ratted out his pals, the FBI has had to move the family every few months because of their tendency to quickly wear out their welcome through their sociopathic proclivities.

At their latest stop in a small, peaceful town in France, Fred is busy burying the body of a hitman he killed at their last home and stuffed in the trunk for the trip to their new home, unbeknownst to Maggie and the kids.

Maggie goes to the local grocery and, after being insulted by the imperious clerk, firebombs the store on the way out.

Meanwhile, at the kids’ multicultural high school, Belle smashes a wooden tennis racket to splinters over the head of a smarmy French boy who comes on too strong, while Warren busily scopes out the cliques and sets up a contraband distribution network.

And that’s just their first day.

Director Luc Besson, who also co-wrote the script with Michael Caleo, serves up a twisted commentary on family ties that has plenty of funny moments — some startlingly so — as well as Besson’s brand of visceral violence.

Some of the funniest touches are the internal, imaginary homicidal rages that Fred flies into whenever someone looks at him the least bit cross-eyed. Sometimes, he keeps these visions contained in his noggin. Other times, well …

The first half of the film deftly plows the fish-out-of-water theme as the entire town fixates on its new exotic neighbors. But eventually, the boys back home figure out where Fred and his family are hiding — and the jailed big boss, Don Mimino (Dominic Chianese, Uncle Junior in “The Sopranos”) sends an entire squad of hitters — eight guys — to exact revenge.

Frankly, using twice as much firepower might still not suffice to put down the exceedingly resourceful Blake clan.

The movie makes some missteps. Efforts to get Belle into the spotlight by seducing her tutor feel forced; a minor subplot about Fred’s efforts to clear up the brown water in his new house’s pipes goes on too long; and the way the mob finally pinpoints the Blake family’s location in Normandy is almost aggressively contrived.

But you can’t go too far wrong with an Oscar-heavy cast like this, which elevates material that likely would fall flat in lesser hands. DeNiro and Pfeiffer are no strangers to the film version of the mob; the latter starred in “Married to the Mob” and “Scarface,” while the former’s resume includes “Casino,” “Analyze This,” “The Godfather Part II” and “The Untouchables.”

Besson pays direct homage to DeNiro’s mob filmography when Fred sits in on the local film society’s American movie night where they show — what else? — “Goodfellas.”

And then there’s Jones, the most effectively deadpan actor of his time, wringing maximum effect from his slight screen time.

As usual in Besson’s work, the violence quotient is amped high, with both the guilty and the innocent graphically slaughtered in any number of scenes, and a big, extended climax that’s pretty much a bloodletting frenzy.

But while the tone is blacker than a mob assassin’s heart, Besson has come up with an amusing riff on the notion that the family that slays together stays together.

Just hope the Blakes don’t move in next door to you.

Rated R for violence, language and sexuality. Got a rant or rave about the movies? Email cvinch@militarytimes.com.

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