Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones revisit some blasts from their pasts in The Family, a violent action comedy about a mob family in France thanks to the Witness Protection Program.
De Niro does a little Analyze This as Giovanni Manzoni, who ratted out his mob pals in Brooklyn and now has a $20 million price on his head. He is, he narrates, "a nice guy" who just has to control his "sadistic urges." He's prone to beating people senseless or to death over poor service, "disrespect" and the like. And he's in France. Funny.
Pfeiffer tones down her Married to the Mob turn as Maggie, the long-suffering wife, moving to yet another town where "the Blakes," as they're called this time, must fit in. But her encounters with rude French salesclerks bring out the practicing pyromaniac in her.
Their kids — Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D'Leo) — have another high school to reconnoiter, master and have their way with.
And Jones, in a milder-mannered version of his U.S. marshal characters, plays a government agent who tries to keep these four alive, and keep the incidents with the locals to a minimum.
As the Blakes set up shop in small-town Normandy, Gio, or "Fred," decides he'll write his memoirs. His cover story now is that he's "a writer." Silly Fred — he says he's doing a D-Day book when he doesn't know a thing about the subject. ("It's about the Marines on D-Day." Every Frenchman in Normandy knows there were no Marines there.)
Maggie finds a charming, ancient church and curdles the blood of the priest with her confession (which we don't hear).
Warren, 14, is bullied, but he's born to work the angles until he's had his revenge. Belle is a streetwise bombshell who sets her sights on a student teacher as her first sexual conquest.
Gio narrates as he types up his book, detailing his family history, papering over his sadistic impulses even as he sets out to find out why their old house has brown water coming out of the tap.
Everybody speaks English, which helps the kids and their "fuggedaboutit" parents adjust. Except they don't. The movie also lacks much in the way of "Frenchness," which is a pity.
Even with a first-rate cast, The Family lurches between laughs, with the most reliable humor coming from the Blakes' over-the-top violence as a way of solving every problem.
De Niro is the funniest he's been since the Analyze series.
Director Luc Besson established his action cred decades ago with La Femme Nikita and The Professional, and he wrote and produced The Transporter and the Taken movies. But nobody ever accused him of having ab flair for comedy. The backhanded slaps at French snootiness, softness and overrated cuisine, and his idea of this sort of mob folk — adept at violence and quick to use it — aren't particularly funny.
Whatever the source material (Tonino Benacquista's novel Malavita), this feels inspired by Netflix's series Lilyhammer, about a mobster hiding out in Norway. Besson & Co. should have learned from that series that the fish-out-of-water/culture-clash stuff is where the fun is. The violence is rare, only for shock value.
Besson aims his movie at anyone who's ever held a grudge at an ill-mannered French waiter or clerk (but they would never condescend to speak to you in English). If you like your wish-fulfillment payback served with a baseball bat, The Family is the French travelogue for you.
R for violence, language and brief sexuality. Relativity Media. 1:48. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.