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'The Family' Sticks to Its Guns

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star in a failed experiment

Rating: R     Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones

Director: Luc Besson

En español | Some might argue that The Family doesn't know what kind of film it wants to be: Is it a bighearted action comedy or a blood-soaked crime drama? But writer-director Luc Besson isn't interested in that choice; he has created a stylish hybrid. The question is, why would anybody really want to see it?

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Certainly The Family has a classic fish-out-of-water comedy premise — a loving mob family tries to adapt to life in rural France while hiding out under the witness protection plan.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro in The Family. (Courtesy Relativity Media)

Relativity Media

Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro play a violent mob couple trying to lay low in witness protection.

Mom and Dad (Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro) and son and daughter (John D'Leo and Dianna Agron) are fiercely devoted to each other, but they're equally fixed to their old, violent ways.

So in the early going Mom blows up a grocery store where she feels disrespected, Daughter beats a piggish classmate nearly to death with a tennis racket, Son organizes a thorough beat-down of some class bullies, and Dad, in an inescapable echo of De Niro's turn as Al Capone in The Untouchables, uses a baseball bat to break the legs of a plumber in 17 places when the guy tries to overcharge him for a pipe job.

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Wait … we're supposed to like these people?

Yes, indeed, because as we're repeatedly reminded, they're really just products of their mobbed-up environment. They hug each other warmly and share their feelings openly. Dad is even getting in touch with his inner self, writing a confessional autobiography on a typewriter he's found.

And so when a hit squad shows up in the village to rub them all out, we're expected to root for them to escape, even if it means a steadily mounting body count of innocent bystanders. Neighbors take bullets to the head, a fireman is assassinated, an entire police station is brutally shot down.

From a humane standpoint, our only hope is that Tommy Lee Jones — who plays the U.S. government operative charged with keeping the family alive — might at some point turn his craggy face to the camera and drawl, "You know what? These people are just not worth it! I'm outta here!"

Never happens, of course. The Family thunders along, following the witness protection story arc of Steve Martin's My Blue Heaven by way of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. As cinema, it's an interesting experiment. As a movie, it's a bloody mess.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.