Sept. 13--America has been married to the mob since the first talkies. The love affair continues with "The Family," a violent and profane mobster comedy co-starring gangster-movie icon Robert De Niro and Ms. "Married to the Mob" and "Scarface" Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Euro-pop movie marvel Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita," "The Professional," "The Fifth Element").
De Niro and Pfeiffer are Giovanni and Maggie Manzoni, and, along with their daughter Belle (Dianna Agron, a bit of a stiff) and younger son Warren (John D'Leo in a breakout turn), they are in the Witness Protection Program and have been relocated from Brooklyn, N.Y., to France.
The Manzonis use the surname Blake as they move into their new Normandy digs (the film was shot on location). They are kind of like the Addams Family of crime. Their FBI handler is a tough old "pit bull" named Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones, wearing too much pancake makeup).
In addition to being creepy and kooky, the Blakes can hurt others with any number of household items. Moreover, the head of the household can use the F-bomb to denote any number of existential states. When a few local geeks take Belle for a ride and expect to force her into having sex, she chooses to play tennis with a would-be assailant's face. For his part, Warren waits to assemble a gang of his own before dealing with bullies who beat him up on his first day at school. Mom, meanwhile, upon hearing a rude French shop-owner put Americans down, blows up his joint.
Giovanni is that paragon of the gangster movie,- a devoted and caring father one moment and a sadistic psychopath the next. Just ask the local plumber who tries to take him for a ride. Using the pseudonym Fred, Giovanni assumes the identity of a writer and begins working on his memoirs. The trouble is the memoirs are true crime stories, and the mob in Brooklyn, complete with a couple of former "Sopranos" actors, has a merciless hit man (Jimmy Palumbo) on the Manzoni family's trail.
De Niro, who is terrific, is a well-known king of comedy, including the 1999 gang-related spoof "Analyze This," and its sequel, as well as a star of several classic gangster movies. Still, "The Family," which is based on a novel by screenwriter Tonino Benacquista, is a godsend after De Niro's string of bad films (with the exception of the award-winning 2012 release "Silver -Linings Playbook").
Pfeiffer dips into her inner Catwoman to express the erotically charged kick her Maggie gets out of violence. In an inspired montage, Besson pays tribute to American gangster-movie auteur Martin Scorsese. Later, the "American writer Fred" finds himself enlisted by the local French cinema club to talk extemporaneously about a classic American movie. Guess which one?
("The Family" contains violence, sexually suggestive scenes and F-bombs.)
(c)2013 the Boston Herald
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