Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Family: There is no limit to Luc Besson's villainy

I complained, once upon a time, that Luc Besson had stopped directing good movies in favour of producing terrible ones at a much greater rate. Then he started directing again. Hmmmm. I shoulda stayed quiet. The Family is his latest movie, and the surprise is not that it's set in France and has a problematic attitude to visitors, but that Besson somehow got Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones to star in it. The mind reels. Has anyone see their families recently? Are they all chained up in a basement somewhere in Serbia? 

The Family, in its way, represents great value for money, in that it's two bad movies for the time and money of only one. On the one hand, it's a not very funny comedy about a mafia family ruining the peace and tranquility of a bucolic French town out of boredom, spite and a malevolent sense of entitlement. On the other hand, it's a not particularly well executed action drama about a mafia family on the run from platoons of implacably insane hit men. There are fitful flickers of how either one could have been a pretty good movie, but somehow knowing that something could have been better seems to make it worse by contrast.

I know most of this going in, but I was in the mood for something somewhat dumb, and I took the view that Robert de Niro had to lift the thing above merely terrible. And there are moments when he does; his scenes with Tommy Lee Jones are a faint echo of much better work they've both done; they feel like a couple of alter kackers gossiping on the porch about the better times, but they're charming somehow. The rest of the time; meh. Part of the joke is that the Family are terrible terrible people who hurt anyone who doesn't give them their way immediately; but beating the crap out of a glib plumber or dragging a supercilious executive behind your car because you didn't like their manners … doesn't play funny, somehow. They don't deserve it, and it's horrible, not hilarious. Though there is a scene when Dianna Agron absolutely demolishes a creep with a tennis racket which I think should open every secondary school "relationships and sexuality" class from now on. 

There are scenes here and there which suggest a much funnier movie, in which de Niro only imagines doing these horrible things and then resigns himself to the need to be low key and reasonable; that would have been a much smarter way to go. More than that, you kind of wind up rooting for the real mafia to show up quickly and whack the bunch of them so that it can all be over. Instead, they're practically the only people who survive the apocalypse which descends on the small town when the mafia finally, through coincidence so implausible it starts being funny again, catches up with them.

Still, it says an awful lot about how the mighty are fallen that I spent most of the movie hoping that Domenick Lombardozzi would get out of it alive. He plays one of the two FBI men on the protective detail for de Niro and co, and the moment I saw that gormless face, I said "Oh God, they're relying on Herc. They're doomed." For most of the movie, Herc is the sweetly dumb soft centre to the action, and just about the only likeable character for the audience to root for. 

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