By Shane M. Dallmann
Robert De Niro is “goodfella” Giovanni Manzoni, now “Fred Blake” in Normandy under the auspices of the Witness Protection Program. Going along with the continuous series of relocations are his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Diana Agron) and son Warren (John D’Leo); all under the supervision of FBI agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). Their orders, naturally, involve blending in perfectly with the local citizens and not calling any undue attention to themselves… yeah, right.
Gio would like nothing more than to sit back and write his memoirs, but there’s that pesky plumbing problem he’s going to have to see to. Rude shopkeepers test Maggie’s patience (rather explosively), and the youngsters walk into a new high school and immediately draw on their own extensive experience when the locals attempt to strongarm them. Meanwhile, there’s a neighborhood barbecue to prepare, and something about a film society that would love to hear from an experienced New Yorker (yes, they really DO invoke GOODFELLAS without actually showing clips: when Martin Scorsese is your executive producer you get to do that sort of thing)… and some VERY experienced New Yorkers eventually get wise to where the wiseguy who ratted them out is hiding.
Okay–this isn’t normally the sort of film that draws me. So why did I go? Because it was co-written and directed by Luc Besson, of course. But you’re not going to find the director of NIKITA and LEON (not to mention my personal favorite, SUBWAY) and other choice, stylish fantasy/adventures much in evidence here… the flights of fancy are limited to several cartoonish “revenge” imaginings straight out of CREEPSHOW (naturally, not all of the considerable violence consists of wishful thinking); and there’s no Eric Serra on the soundtrack (which is still pleasant enough as it combines standards with pop surprises and original compositions).
That said, THE FAMILY still engages the attention with a most appealing cast, and even when their antics go (way) over the top, there’s still sympathy to be had for some of them (Maggie’s attempt to reconcile herself to the church is the most effective, and even though you KNOW where it’s headed when Belle finds “true love” for the first time, Agron still plays the part most strikingly). We’re also treated to a well-played relationship between Giovanni and Stansfield: “love/hate” isn’t quite right, but “loathing/camaraderie” is a bit awkward. Some things you can always count on, and putting De Niro and Jones together delivers what it promises; including an amusing running gag about the eloquence of one of those words you can’t say on television (Jones scores with the punchline). In the end, of course, there’s only one way for the family to truly bond, and there are no real surprises to be had here; nevertheless, THE FAMILY remains an agreeable diversion.