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I’d issue a SPOILER ALERT!, but how does one go about curdling something as putrescent as The Family?

By now we have all grown accustomed to THE GREATEST ACTOR OF HIS GENERATION using the eeny-meeny-miney-moe method of script selection. With the exception of his cameo in Machete, Robert DeNiro hasn’t given audiences anything to look at since Jackie Brown. That was 1997. We’ve been ‘focked’ over enough times to know that the statute of limitations has long run out, Bobby, and your latest release, The Family, is as dysfunctional they get.

This time, DeNiro once again felt compelled to bring Marty down with him by adding His name to the credits as executive producer. If you remember, it was Bob who convinced Scorsese to bed down with Amblin during the production of Cape Fear, the film that along with The Departed shares the dubious distinction of lining the bottom of the Scorsese birdcage. What the fuck was Marty thinking? The script, adapted by director Luc Besson and Michael Caleo from a novel by Tonino Benacquista is an even more flagrant suck-up job than William Monaghan’s screenplay for The Departed.

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The Family picks up where Goodfellas left off. Instead of punishing Henry Hill with a home in the suburbs where he can sin no more, a wiseguy rat, Fred Blake (DeNiro) and his psychotic family are relocated to Belgium and placed in the care of the Witness, or in this case Witless Protection Program. Tommy Lee Jones plays the CIA agent in charge of the case. The weight of the leaden script coupled with DP Thierry Arbogast‘s unforgiving lighting, magically transform the bags under Jones’ eyes into Moe Howard-sized steamer trunks.

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While puttering about the ramshackle chateau, DeNiro unearths a manual Brother typewriter and begins pecking away at an autobiography (aka a cheap ruse to give the film much-needed structural support). As the unstable mob informant sits quietly typing in the garden, his ticking time bomb of a family makes their presence known.

Mrs. Goombah (Michelle Pfeiffer) torches a grocery store run by American-haters. Teenage son Warren (John D'Leo, giving the film its sole character of interest) quickly finds ways of overthrowing the high school from within while older sister Belle (Dianna Agron, made up to resemble Britney Spears in her Baby One More Time days) uses a tennis racket to go all Kick Ass on a slimy male classmate who put the moves on her. Dad eventually takes a break from his memoirs long enough to whack the plumber for being disrespectful.

The way Besson stacks the deck makes it difficult for audiences to connect with anything on-screen. It’s kinda’ hard to root for a band of volatile, self-entitled sadists.

The film’s only running gag positions the French characters as Anglophobes and the Americans as just cause for their contempt. Besson decides to punish us dumb foreigners by delivering the same type of insipid action comedy -- captured in center-frame ‘Scope close-ups that will play just as well on TV with the sides cut off -- he thinks will go over big Stateside.

DeNiro regurgitating Travis Bickle’s “You talkin’ to me” catchphrase in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is one thing. That was a kidflick; call it DeNiro’s attempt to give the adults in the audience a chance to chuckle. At one point, Fred is asked to give a talk to a local film group following a screening of Goodfellas. The crowd that I saw it with didn’t share my disdain for the conspicuous in-joke. They squealed and gasped like the audience on The Price is Right when a frost-free Amana upright is wheeled out.

Martin Scorsese taught us all the art of smuggling. Marty is one of the few directors alive that’s capable of stealing from others and making it His own. Why must He continually fall prey to such obvious forms of homage? Put your money to better use, Marty, by restoring a few Bunuel films!

If Scorsese is a better director than He is a producer, the exact opposite can be said of Luc Besson whose post Léon: The Professional live-action work leaves much to be desired. Conversely, District B13, District 13: Ultimatum, Unleashed and Taken all have a welcome slots on my video shelf.

Two laughs, one of which is so in as to render it out. In what could be the performance of the year, Mike Bocchetti, hapless regular on The Artie Lange Show pops up as an orthodox Jew light bulb peddler. Chalk one up for the casting agent.

Warren provides the film with it’s one true bit of satire when he observes DeNiro’s uncanny ability to express an entire range of emotion simply by saying ‘fuck.” You don’t want to know how many times I uttered a variation of the word on the ride home.

Click for Showtimes. I dare you!

Reader Rating: Zero Stars

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