When a comedy about the New York Mafia moving to France is produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Luc Besson, it should be mighty hard to mess up the mayhem. Unfortunately, they found a way.
The premise is promising.
Fred Blake (Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II) is in a witness protection plan. He’s a former Mafia man who’s living on the lam in France after committing the cardinal sin: he snitched on his Mafia family back in the States. A stint in Cannes didn’t work out because Fred still has a way of making people disappear, so to speak, and his wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns), is a serial grocery store bomber. The kids are actually even more interesting. The 14-year-old son, Warren (John D’Leo, The Wrestler), is a classic gangster in the making and the 17-year-old daughter, Belle (Dianna Agron, Burlesque), is a hopeless romantic hoping to find a man who’ll rescue her from her miserable life on the run. But don’t take advantage of her; she knows how to pack a punch and pack heat.
So it is the Blakes find themselves in Cholong-sur-Avre, Normandy. While settling in, Fred finds a typewriter and begins writing his memoirs. He also has the bad judgment of posing as a historian writing a book about the D-Day invasion. An innocent conversation with one of his new neighbors proves Fred has a poor sense of history, particularly when he says he’s writing about the Marines’ involvement in D-Day.
In the meantime, the Mafia back home is still on the prowl, feverishly in pursuit of vengeance against Fred.
What follows is entertaining in fits and starts.
Based on the novel Malavita by Tonino Benacquista, the story seems to suffer from a crisis of confidence. In the early going there’s a running joke about peanut butter; thankfully the Blake family gets preoccupied with other matters and that joke gets dumped. Unfortunately, one of the things that takes up Fred’s time is an oddball subplot about dirty water. It affords Fred the opportunity to assault a plumber who bears bad news and to go on a mini-crusade to right the village’s water problems.
Seemingly against Fred’s need to blend in and disappear, Fred gets invited to a movie screening and to participate in an on-stage post-movie Q&A session. It just so happens the library sent the wrong movie and the audience winds up watching – wait for it – Goodfellas, a movie both De Niro and Scorsese know a little something about. It’s a semi-funny gag, in a self-serving way, but it’s surely not the hoot that everybody involved anticipated entertaining audiences around the world.
With the humor falling flat, it’s time for the movie to wrap things up with the international intrigue of the New York Mafioso hunting down Fred in France. The entire climactic confrontation is a major disappointment coming from Besson, the guy who directed flicks like The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita. The action doesn’t flow with Besson’s usual pizzazz and there’s no real sense of tension.
It’s a climax that’s more obligatory than satisfying.
It’s a shame The Family is so dysfunctional. There’s so much talent involved, the weak end result seems almost criminal.
Sure, De Niro and Pfeiffer are fine, but they’re working with sub-par material. The real stars are the two kids. D’Leo is aces as the thug-to-be son and Agron absolutely steals the show whenever she’s on screen.
The movie’s freshest scenes involve the kids’ school campus shenanigans as they sort through typical high school issues like bullies and young romance. That’s not enough, though to make either the Mafia family or the Blake family worth getting to know.