Thursday, September 12, 2013

Laughs slim in this mob comedy

De Niro, Pfeiffer and Jones. No, it's not a law firm; it's the cast of another superfluous Mafia comedy.
Unimaginative, far-fetched and unable to establish a consistent comic tone, The Family -- the story of the Manzonis, a mob family hiding in France -- feels as stale as a two-day old croissant.

Director Luc Besson's attempt to connect explosive violence with comedy doesn't exactly fizzle, but it's surely not as funny as the filmmaker, who co-write the script with Michael Caleo, must have intended.

The movie's main joke hinges on the fact that the entire Manzoni family has severe anger management issues. Insult mom (Michelle Pfeiffer), and she might blow up your business. Attempt to put one over on dad (Robert De Niro), and he'll try to beat you to death with a baseball bat. It doesn't take much kindling to bring the Manzoni temper to a violent boil.

The two Manzoni kids also seem to have inherited the mobster gene. Warren (John D'Leo) is a conniving high-school student and budding crime czar: His sister, Belle (Dianna Agron) shows no mercy when dealing with a male student who who makes boorish advances.

Safe to say that De Niro, behind a bushy beard, breaks little new ground. Pfeiffer, who made her mob-comedy bones in Jonathan Demme's 1988 Married to the Mob, makes a strong impression, but -- like her compatriots -- can't entirely overcome Besson's tone-deaf approach to humor.

Credibility is not the movie's strong suit. With a $20-million price on his head, De Niro's Gio Manzoni -- a mobster turned snitch -- has been assigned his own personal FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones). And speaking of not breaking new ground, the always intimidating Jones once again does his "Mr. Severe" act.

The movie builds toward a violent finale that will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Besson's work (La Femme Nikta and The Professional), but the humor and violence tend to cancel each other out, and the whole project comes across as something that may have out-lived its shelf life even before the curtain rose.

Did we really need another comedy about the Mafia? Is it plausible that so many people would speak English in a dreary and obscure French town? Would the U.S. government really spend big money to send an FBI agent and two assistants to a small French town to protect the Manzonis from vengeful American mobsters.

At one point, Gio discovers a typewriter in the rubble around the rundown house the family has been given. He decides to write a book about his experiences. Maybe his memoir would have been more interesting than a comedy that tries to shuffle the mob-movie deck, but deals a losing hand.

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