Mayhem in the family

When it comes to a certain genre, Luc Besson, the co-writer and director of "The Family," is a gifted storyteller. A fine example of his style is the film "Taken" (2008), starring Liam Neeson, also co-written and produced by Besson, and a thriller extraordinaire. As is "The Transporter," also written by Besson.

While "The Family" is not your tension-filled ride, it also is not a film about the foibles of a nuclear family living in well-maintained two-story digs in the burbs.

Instead, this film is a dark comedy about a family of four, exiled in the federal witness-protection program, and, after several unsuccessful moves, set up in a small village in Normandy, France. The patriarch, Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro), once a consummate mobster, has ratted out his partners in crime to save himself and is on the lam. See, the uber-mob boss, though in prison, has reached out and put out a contract on Manzoni, aka Fred Blake, and his wife, Maggie Blake (Michelle Pfeiffer), as well as their two children, Belle (Dianna Agron), 17, and Warren (John D'Leo), 14.

The Manzonis, however, have, let's say, issues: when confronted with a problem (say the water coming out of the tap in the kitchen is brown), or are the recipients of a perceived slight, well, they blow things up, create mayhem, or inflict awful pain on the author(s) of the insult.

In other words, they just can't keep a low profile, to the consternation of the feds (Special Agent Tommy Lee Jones, in particular). Case in point, in an opening scene, Maggie goes to the local grocery store and asks for peanut butter. The owner condescendingly says no. Peanut butter. Quelle horreur! Americans. Maggie, taking umbrage, blows the place up, smiling as she drives away. And that's pretty much how it goes for the Manzoni family as it not so quietly settles into its Tudor house with old pipes and no heat.

"The Family" is not a laugh-out-loud comedy. But it is smile-inducing, quirky and endlessly entertaining. What makes it so are the fine performances of De Niro, who seems to enjoy himself immensely and doesn't just walk through his performance as the take-no-prisoners head of the household. Pfieffer is perfect as the long-suffering-but-adaptable mobster wife and mother (a part she played before in "Married to the Mob") who also is potentially lethal. In a nice way. And the children introduce a whole new set of values to the local high school: Warren runs various scams, takes revenge on the school bully, while the ravishing Belle sets her sights on a young student teacher who she decides will be her first love (carnal knowledge a must).

And not to forget the wonderful cast of wise guys who arrive to cancel Fred's ticket, payback for being a snitch. Each knucklehead is a delightful caricature taken from the best that the Sicilian gene pool has to offer. They're wonderful.

Is this a dark comedy of manners? Definitely. In kind of a noir, screwball and delightful way.

'The World's End"

In some ways, the title of this British import, "The World's End," is unfortunate for this is not an apocalyptic tale by any stretch.

The film opens with Gary King (Simon Pegg), struggling with alcoholism, in a moment of deluded inspiration, decides he will round up his four old mates from his late teens and recreate one glorious night of pub-crawling — 12 pubs, a pint at each pub, called the Golden Mile. The old gang hasn't been back to their hometown of Newton Haven, in northern England, for some 20 years. This will be their anniversary bash, the point being that they never made all 12 pubs, the last one being the World's End. But this time. "¦

Gary is the spark plug, and it's only after cajoling, pleading, lying and manipulating that he convinces them to join him in this ill-considered adventure.

And so the first half of the film focuses on that old adage, "You can't go home again." As much as being an adult is distasteful, and youth always is viewed through a distorted prism, the theme, at least initially, suggests that Newton Haven hasn't changed, but the boys-to-men have.

What the filmmakers do, however, is give this arrested development concept a brash, farcical, satirical, slapstick twist that is both comedic and unexpected, and a decidedly unsubtle way of making a point.

If you are a fan of what is now called the Cornetto Trilogy ("Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz"), and if you appreciate the ability of the Brits to make raucous over-the-top movies, "The World's End" will not disappoint.

— Chris Honoré

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