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De Niro
De Niro

Mafia movies have two problems. 1) The scenery rarely changes. 2) They’ve. Been. Done. To. Death.

And what the hell: 3) They’ve watered down Robert De Niro’s greatness.

Luc Besson’s The Family at least spices up the genre. Sure, it’s wildly inexact with its tone, there’s not much holding it together and it’s campy and oddly self-referential at one point, but it is nevertheless a bit of dumb fun that, if not breathing new life into mafia movies, at least breathes different life into them.

Gio (Robert De Niro) has spent six years on the run with his family. He turned snitch, and he’s been in witness protection so his “extended family” can’t track him down. Trouble is, Gio’s a hothead, killing grocers and maiming plumbers throughout Europe just because he feels disrespected. So his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and kids (Dianna Agron from Glee and John D’Leo) have lived out of suitcases for ages. They get from place to place with the help of Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), an FBI guy sworn to keep Gio safe from the mob.

What makes The Family different does not necessarily make it better. It’s got some funny scenes, but not enough to make it a comedy. The mob stuff rings pretty inauthentic and outdated. Also, what a shame that something so inconsequential brings together De Niro and Jones -- two guys who can do good and bad work with such aplomb -- for the very first time. Their scenes together are a real treat, though, and, of all things, the blossoming teenager angle written for Agron is really thoughtful and effective.

But The Family is mostly a movie that would be great if it were something else. A different actor as a Mafioso, maybe, or the same cast with a more energetic script -- then maybe you’d have something.

The Family, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Luc Besson, rated R, 112 mins