There was a time when the combination of “De Niro” and “mob movie” would guarantee a classic film. That time is long past.
Robert De Niro spoofs some of his own iconic personas in “The Family,” a dark comedy about a mafia clan out of water.
A stellar cast, however, which also includes Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones, can’t overcome a clunky script that has very few actual laughs.
De Niro stars as Fred Blake, formerly Giovanni Manzoni, a one-time mob boss turned informant. Now he and his family are in the witness protection program, being shuffled from place to place around Europe.
As the film begins, they’ve landed in Normandy, where they quickly show why they wear out their welcome wherever they stop.
Dad still gives in to violent impulses — he’ll off somebody for walking on his lawn, or somesuch.
Maggie, the mom (Pfeiffer), is a spiritual pyromaniac. Belle, the daughter (“Glee’s” Dianna Agron), is a beautiful thug. Warren, the son (John D’Leo), is a foul-mouthed schemer.
Barely holding them together is Jones as a grizzled FBI man, who pops in and out of scenes but probably has less than 10 minutes of screen time overall.
Ostensibly, the family is trying to avoid the attention of the New York mafia, which desperately wants to kill them in inventive, painful ways. They commit a number of felonies, however, and eventually the bad guys catch their scent.
Along the way, director and co-writer Luc Besson (“The Professional”) — better known for his action flicks — tries to milk violence for comic effect, but it’s only sporadically comical. Watching the beauty queen-ish Agron beat someone to a pulp, for instance, loses its edge fairly quickly.
Other than that, the most clever bit of wittiness — hammered home, time and again — is that snooty French people hate Americans. Ha ha. For those who eat Freedom Fries, this may just be your movie.