Crime-infused black comedy is tricky to get right. Nail the required blend of humour, grit and pathos and the results can be sublime (see ‘In Bruges’); get it wrong, and you end up with a ‘Gigli’ on your hands. Luc Besson’s convoluted, tonally shambolic ‘The Family’ – an adaptation of Tonino Benacquista’s novel ‘Malavitas’ – bellyflops squarely into the latter camp.
A desultory Robert De Niro continues his downward career trajectory as runaway Brooklyn mob paterfamilias Giovanni, who hides out in Normandy with his sociopathic wife (a criminally wasted Michelle Pfeiffer) and two vile children. Here, they terrorise a host of provincial French stereotypes before having to defend themselves from their pursuers. Why Besson thinks viewers would root for this awful family is anyone’s guess – the script leaves us none the wiser – but he ploughs on undaunted with a relentless combination of gratuitous violence, tasteless sexual shenanigans involving Giovanni’s teenage daughter and tortured, sub-Tarantino witticisms. The film’s sole saving grace is Tommy Lee Jones’s amusingly cranky FBI agent, but he can’t save this ship from sinking.