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Home : Arts : Arts and Entertainment News
9/19/2013 8:36:00 AM
'The Family' troubling Mafia-themed comedy
Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro star in a scene from the movie
Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro star in a scene from the movie "The Family." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying paren t or adult guardian.(CNS photo/Relativity Media)
Catholic News Service

That rare Hollywood commodity, the close-knit clan, is put to shameful waste in director Luc Besson's troubling Mafia-themed comedy, "The Family" (Relativity).

In fact, the internal harmony of the titular household exists simply as a foil for the viciously violent -- and supposedly humorous -- behavior its members display toward any outsider who displeases them.

With a price on their heads, Cosa Nostra insider-turned-informant Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro), his wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), and their high-schoolers, Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D'Leo), have been sent to hide out in a remote Normandy village as part of the witness protection program.

Since the victims of Giovanni's snitching are still in relentless pursuit, the quartet's chief FBI handler, Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), is desperate for them to blend in with their new neighbors. That's easier said than done, however, because all four share the same tendency to exact blood-soaked vengeance on anyone foolish enough to affront them, however trivially.

As Besson and screenwriter Michael Caleo ill-advisedly seek to draw laughs from bombings, beatings and murder, the life-squandering lightheartedness becomes increasingly distasteful. Other factors make their screen version of Tonino Benacquista's novel "Malavita" even more off-putting.

Thus, Belle, explicitly identified in the dialogue as a 17-year-old, brazenly sets out to seduce her math teacher. We're shown the successful outcome of her campaign in considerable detail.

Sacred subject matter also comes in for frivolous treatment through ostensibly devout Maggie's interaction with the local priest (Christopher Craig). Having seen her praying by herself in church several times, Father inquires why she doesn't attend Mass, and eventually invites her to make a long-overdue visit to the confessional.

We're meant to be amused by the thought of the shocking catalog of horrifying sins to which the unwitting clergyman has thus subjected himself. And, indeed, the next time we see the good pastor, some days later, he's agitatedly reproaching Maggie for her offenses and tossing her out of church lest she contaminate his decent parishioners -- several of whom are within earshot at the time.

The fact that such actions would represent a blatant violation of the sacramental seal -- an offense incurring automatic excommunication -- is apparently too insignificant to stand in the way of the intended joke. Forgive us if fail to see the humor in such trespasses.

The film contains much harsh and sometimes bloody violence, graphic nonmarital and underage sexual activity, nongraphic marital lovemaking, irreverent humor, numerous mature references, a few uses of profanity as well as frequent rough and occasional crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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