Friday, 22 November 2013



There is a very weird moment in Luc Besson's Mob comedy action thriller when Robert De Niro has to sit and watch GoodFellas. This is not just for reasons of plot contrivance, but also for reasons of a post-modern injoke: but unlike that bit in Ocean's Twelve where the character played by Julia Roberts looks like Julia Roberts, no-one seems to mention that the guest of honour at this GoodFellas screening looks exactly like Robert De Niro. This is an alternate universe where GoodFellas still exists, but presumably it stars someone else, or "their" Robert De Niro looks nothing like "ours". (Plus he gets to misquote his own Al Capone from The Untouchables!) It should almost go without saying that Besson's film isn't anywhere near as good as Scorsese's (and Martin Scorsese is one of the producers); in fact it's quite fun as a throwaway bit of sitcom knockabout - Married To The Mob meets Married With Children.

The Family is the Blakes: Fred (De Niro) and Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two kids, relocating to rural France so Fred can write his non-fiction book about the Normandy landings. But really they're the Manzonis: hidden in the Witness Protection Program after Fred/Giovanni snitched on his family and his organisation. All they need to do is keep quiet and out of trouble, but they're a crime family at heart and both generations revert to their old ways, whether it's beating up plumbers, sorting out the school bullies or taking revenge on the local minimarket because they won't sell peanut butter....

Minus the swearing, and the avalanche of bloodied corpses in the third act (when the tone veers suddenly from amiable comedy to brutal violence), this could function quite nicely as the pilot for a traditional half-hour TV sitcom "filmed before a live studio audience" as the family keep getting into hilarious scrapes and failing to adjust to their new identities, to the eternal consternation of their grumpy FBI handler (Tommy Lee Jones). It should run for at least three series, which is certainly more goes than it would get as a movie franchise.

As for the question of whether we should expect anything more given the level of talent involved: Robert De Niro is now 70 and frankly doesn't need to prove himself any more. He did Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, Cape Fear, Mean Streets and The King Of Comedy and has enough trophies, statuettes and baubles for two mantelpieces. If he wants to relax into retirement with chummy comedies that spoof his image of decades past, why shouldn't he? And by what right do we still expect more of him? The Family isn't stretching him, or anyone else - Tommy Lee Jones is basically doing the Tommy Lee Jones thing, which is always good fun - but it's funny enough, has a trio of watchable stars and doesn't outstay its welcome. I quite enjoyed it.


No comments: