Movie: The Family; Director: Luc Besson; Studio: Relativity Media; Rating: R; My finding: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
French director Luc Besson has been a true master of mixing the high and low brow into a form of cinematic entertainment all his own. "The Family," his new comedy, is no different.
While some audience members may not share his taste for mixing comedy and high action at irregular and unsmooth jolts, it is a form of cinema much needed as many pictures have lost their sense of fun. Sometimes, but not often, "tonal inconsistency" is exactly the recipe called for.
In "The Family," former made-man from the Bronx in the New York mafia Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) and his family are dropped in Normandy, in the south of France, in the witness protection program.
"We're the Blakes now," says Maggie, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, of their most recent move. This town is the smallest they've been moved to after ruining their cover spectacularly every place they go.
That's right. Both Pfeiffer and De Niro are mob-movie royalty and they're both here in top form.
With credits like "The Godfather Part II," "Goodfellas," "Casino," and on and on as director Martin Scorsese's prefered partner, De Niro knows what he's doing.
Likewise, Pfeiffer was the beautiful trophy wife in both "Married to the Mob" and "Scarface."
Joining them are their two high-school-age children.
John D'Leo, in his first major role, plays Warren, the perfect mafia son who already knows all the angles and how to play them. He even sports a mole on his cheek, making him the perfect De Niro protege.
But even better is Dianna Agron, of television's Glee, as Belle, with a hot temper and a taste for intense violence and murder she got from both of her parents.
In short, "The Family" can best be described as a live-action, adult cartoon depicting caricatures of extreme violence.
But it works when they're
played so well.
De Niro hasn't seemed like he's had this much fun in a movie for years. Other than his supporting role in last year's critically acclaimed "Silver Linings Playbook," the vast majority of his "work" in cinema over the last decade has been nothing more than phone-in check cashing.
A plumber who comes two days and 30 minutes late to fix the pipes in the old French home takes one look at Giovanni, sporting a shaggy gray beard that makes him look like the classic depiction of a nice, French peasant, and thinks he's got a mark. Attempts to rip Gio off, though, end with him being beaten to a pulp until a baseball bat breaks and then Gio has to move on to another weapon to finish his rage.
"I'm not doctor, I'm a writer," Giovanni tells a doctor after taking the plumber to the hospital reporting the illogical story that he had fallen down the stairwell to explain the significant number of fractures and outright breaks in the man's legs. He has taken to writing his memoirs, both to blow off steam and stay out of trouble, as well as to explain why he's at home so often.
It's the pithy dialogue, coming from a man who influenced my taste in films perhaps more than anyone and who has left me so disappointed in recent years, that held me transfixed to the gorgeously shot, provincial and extremely familial tale that I loved so dearly.
Even Tommy Lee Jones plays Stansfield, the unfortunate FBI agent charged with keeping them safe. It's those old eyes, some of the most expressive in film history, that says he's tired of it all. He's the perfect counterpoint to the zany and kinetic brilliance of the crazy family that explodes shopping markets that don't serve peanut butter, beats a handsy pervert with a badminton racket and explodes a chemical factory turbine not performing up to their standards and tastes.
And then the third act comes, introduced by pop-cultural gold when Mafioso seeking revenge exit a train, and the colors release into an ultra-violent, 20 minute shootout with sincere emotional underpinnings that prove no matter how dysfunctional, the family is just that.
This is one film, despite what others may say, that I look forward to owning the day it comes out. Don't believe the lack of hype and go enjoy film again.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)