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From left: Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Dianna Agron and John D’Leo star in “The Family.” Photo by Jessica Forde
From left: Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Dianna Agron and John D’Leo star in “The Family.” Photo by Jessica Forde
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

Film review: This ‘Family’ is definitely worth a visit

An ironic tale about a mobster’s post-career lifestyle, “The Family” doesn’t have to worry about sleeping with the fishes anytime soon. 

There was a time when mobsters had it all; people would flock to the cinema to witness their “untouchable” presence. Every classic you can think of — “Little Caesar,” “Public Enemy,” “Scarface,” “Manhattan Melodrama,” “The Godfather,” “The Untouchables,” “Goodfellas,” “A Bronx Tale,” “Casino” — has left its mark on movie history, and for good reason.

Now the Mafia’s power over audiences has diminished, the blood on its hands no longer being as fresh as it used to be. The question it should’ve asked was this: What happens when it’s all over? While the mob can’t change what it is, it finds comfort in the fact that every Mafioso is part of the family — and with family, there’s no shortage of fun waiting around the corner.

Luc Besson’s newest film, “The Family,” knows this, and has a blast reveling in the mishaps of one particular Mafia bloodline, led by tough guy veteran Robert De Niro.

A notorious crime boss (De Niro) and his family are relocated to an ordinary French town under the witness protection program. Settling in doesn’t come easy for them, as they soon find themselves solving their everyday problems the “family” style. But no sooner do old habits die hard than the underworld cronies they snitched on track them down, ready to put bullets in their heads.

Irony is the film’s greatest asset, and director Besson wields it to hilarious effect when highlighting this family’s failed attempts to fit in. Given De Niro and Pfeiffer’s presence, it would be accurate to understand “The Family” as being the lovechild of “Analyze This” and “Married to the Mob,” blending the comedic value of both.

It would be impossible for any moviegoer not to get a kick out of seeing De Niro take out his frustration on the people responsible for fixing the plumbing stalling on him, or watching Pfeiffer blow up a supermarket on account of insults hurled at her by the locals. And the best parts are when the two of them find out what the other has been doing while talking at home. Or, in De Niro’s case, writing his thoughts down despite knowing they will probably never sell.

At the same time, Besson balances the comedy with an equal portion of drama; nobody wants to see mobsters that are set to “criminal-only,” after all. His key to making the serious moments work lies within the screenplay’s confidence in not taking itself too seriously while keeping a level head — the perfect recipe to making a fun, crowd-pleasing movie.

De Niro’s more insightful side emerges whenever flashbacks of his New York life are detailed, not to mention his eagerness in trying to become more involved in the community. Same goes to Pfeiffer, who isn’t too enthusiastic about moving again after having recently settled into their new home. As for the kids, played by Dianna Agron (“Glee”) and John D’Leo, they have their fair share of quiet moments with their folks worth watching.

Besson may not be on the same level as Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese, but his choice of cast gives “The Family” a sense of meaning. De Niro and Pfeiffer have great chemistry together as the bored married couple, which actually doesn’t exude boredom due to their energetic dialogue. Dianna Agron sheds her sweet-faced “Glee” persona and replaces it with a sufficient performance as the girl-next-door with killing instincts. John D’Leo handles himself quite well as the newcomer, imbuing his scenes with droll observance. Tommy Lee Jones, who portrays the agent responsible for keeping them in line, is his usual gruff yet enjoyable self; since when has he not been?

Out looking for a mobster film that works well within a comedic atmosphere and has your favorite Godfather having a fun time?

Pay a visit to “The Family,” and you’ll see how there is no reason to “fuggedaboudit.”

MPAA rating: R for violence, language and brief sexuality.
Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Playing: In general release