It’s the jaunty music that gives away the initial mood of Luc Besson’s film about a psychopathic Mafia family in witness protection in the North of France. If that light-hearted tone had played all the way out to the end of the film, there may have been something in this quirky fish-out-of-water comedy, but the onset of humourless and mindless violence flattens the film to a standstill, crushing whatever charm the cast attempt to bring to proceedings.
And what a cast to waste! Robert De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, on the run after ratting on his New York gangster friends, and a man who will happily beat an innocent plumber to within a u-bend of his life for no particular reason. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) has a thing about setting supermarkets on fire, whilst the children Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo) don’t take too long to show their true colours at the local high school, Belle battering a teen admirer to a pulp and Warren using his cunning to quickly gain control of the school supply chain of everything illegal. Casting a tired watchful eye over this nasty little family unit is FBI Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) who can do little more than muster a Gallic shrug and mutter “c’est la vie.”
The plot collapses into a series of episodes that become increasingly unfunny, writer/director/producer Besson unable to create much of a story nor maintain the satirical tone. Known for slick action films like Nikita, Taxi and The Transporter, parts of The Family feel like a quick and dirty homage to Martin Scorsese, inelegantly shoehorned into a film already suffering from an identity crisis. Promising storylines open (the culture clash that comes with American children at a French school; Giovanni’s plan to write his memoirs; Maggie’s attendance at church), but they all fizzle to nothing. It’s really only the performances of Agron and D’Leo that make this watcheable, the two youngsters offering some much needed freshness in an otherwise stale tale. What could have been a wonderful comic relationship between two screen giants – De Niro and Jones – is, like everything in this film – wasted.