A supposed dark comedy, The Family centres on the Manzoni family who have landed in an unfamiliar town and are now struggling to fit in. Mobster Giovanni Manzoni, his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), son Warren (John D’Leo), and daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) along with their dog Malavita (which also happens to be the name of the Tonino Benacquista novel on which the film is based) are sent off to the witness protection program after Gio decides to rat on his cohorts for reasons that never really become apparent. Wanted by the people he snitched on and unable to assimilate in a number of towns, the family is relocated to Normandy, as we begin to see why they haven’t been able to fit in anywhere: they can’t leave their criminal ways behind. They each come with short fuses, and, much to the chagrin of their handler Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), are ever ready to beat, bash, destroy, or kill anyone who crosses them.
As they become embroiled in various shenanigans, it gets harder and harder to care for them. You get the feeling that Luc Besson (who directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the film) thinks his characters are in some way likeable, although he never expends any effort on making them appealing or giving the viewer a reason to root for these despicable people who have absolutely no redeeming qualities. It’s like watching a group of unlikable, stereotypical caricatures whose nastiness is supposed to be amusing and in turn somehow makes them endearing.
Its ideas, while not novel by any means, could have potentially made an amusing movie had the filmmakers spent a little more energy on coming up with a better script and showing more character development. Instead, opportunities for humour are squandered, and rather than giving us something clever or sharp, the movie just doles out gratuitous violence to make up for its lack of substance. The Family shifts gears at will, and by the time its characters’ past catches up with them, it completely forgets its own tone and turns into an all out action thriller.
The cast might be top notch, but there’s not much they can do here when they’re being asked to portray a bunch of sociopaths with stereotypical afflictions, flimsy backgrounds, and no development. Michelle Pfeiffer is game but wasted on this material. Glee’s Dianna Agron is flat-out miscast. Tommy Lee Jones appears to be sleepwalking through his role. And while Robert De Niro’s presence is, in itself, theoretically amusing, all his tired semi-satirical self-mockery does is remind you that, believe it or, once upon a time he used to make good movies!
Ultimately, The Family is more dark than it is comedic, and it isn’t nearly as amusing or fun as it could and should have been. Despite all its in-jokes and Scorsese references, this isn’t a sharp satire, nor does it have any significant substance, and you most certainly shouldn’t go into it expecting clever twists or inventive touches. Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer do have chemistry, but the film is mostly a waste of their talent. In the hands of a more skilful filmmaker with better comedic instincts though, it could probably have been a lot better.