The Family aka Malavita (2013)

(Video on Demand, December 2013) Luc Besson’s work over the past dozen years has been frustratingly uneven, so even a run-of-the-mill action comedy can seem like good news.  Co-written and directed by Besson, The Family is about an American mob family being relocalized in deep France and dealing with the local elements before facing down retribution from their past.  Featuring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones for instant characterization (neither of the three in any way push beyond their usual screen persona, although with De Niro we’re used to the parody aspect), The Family moves along quickly and without a fuss, its comedy occasionally interrupted with a few action sequences.  On paper, it shouldn’t work all that well: The paper-thin justification for the premise is weak, the American characters are borderline sociopaths and the third act hinges on a coincidence so massive that the film spends a solid three minutes establishing it.  That it does work is a testimony to the talent of the actors, the skill of the director and the unassuming lack of pretension for the entire film.  It ends a bit abruptly and leaves many subplots dangling, but The Family seems like a return to form for Besson: Not only is he directing after repeatedly announcing his retirement, but many of his most unpleasant writing tics seem to have been swept under the rug for once.  The result is good enough for a few dark laughs.

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