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Phil is an author, blogger and Twitterer.

RATING: 1 star (out of 4)

Remember the octopus that always picked the winners of soccer games? That’s what Robert De Niro is, only his talent is always managing to choose horrible scripts. Silver Linings Playbook aside, De Niro has an uncanny ability to suction cup himself to the most craptastic cinematic disasterpieces available.

The Family, a sad imitation of a mob comedy, shows that Silver Linings was a fluke and De Niro’s octo-awful skill remains jacked in, following the bland tradition of The Big Wedding, New Year’s Eve, Everybody’s Fine, Righteous Kill and Little Fockers.

It’s not that De Niro has lost the acting skill that brought him a pair of Oscars and made him Martin Scorsese’s pre-Leonardo DiCaprio mancrush. An earnest performer who does what he can to keep the walls from crumbling around him, he’s rarely the problem in the disasters in which he tends to wind up. This time out, the culprit is clearly French filmmaker Luc Besson, whose The Professional/The Fifth Element glory days are as ancient as Freedom Fries references.

Besson has proven himself to be a capable action director over the years, but comedy remains out of his grasp. Bland, hackneyed mafia movie references ooze out of this awful wreck, and De Niro and his cast are nowhere near up to the task of making something out of nothing. Just as he did in Analyze This and Analyze That, the scraggly-bearded De Niro mocks his wiseguy persona as a washed-up mobster. He plays a witness stand rat who is shuttled off, along with his family, into the witness protection program, newly settling in a sleepy French village.

The comedy is supposed to spawn from watching the De Niro character, his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and kids (Dianna Argon and John D’Leo) use their #thuglife tactics to manipulate their unfamiliar surroundings to get their way. De Niro beats up a shyster plumber, Pfeiffer sets fire to a market with rude employees, Argon gives a gang of neighborhood would-be rapists a beatdown and D’Leo arranges favors with local kids in order to arrange a gang attack on a bully. There’s potential for something like this to be entertaining, but the execution is so bland and predictable, the payoffs never work. You feel like you’re waiting for your drunken uncle to warble his way through a joke he’s told a thousand times.

Adding to the depressing tone of the landfill-like sense of waste is the presence of Tommy Lee Jones as a federal agent whose job it is to protect the family from mob-hired bounty hunters out to exact revenge. His disinterested, staccato delivery works in movies where there are interesting things going on around him, but here his boredom is too easy to identify with. Jones looks exhausted, humiliated and about as interested as an MVD clerk or competitive fisher on an ESPN 2 show at 3 a.m. It’s as though he’s watching The Family right along with you, is just as embarrassed and would rather you just play Angry Birds and check texts as the abomination grinds to its merciful death.

For a movie all about a mob turncoat afraid of getting whacked, the hit job turns out to be a long, painful one on the audience itself.

Starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Argon, John D’Leo and Tommy Lee Jones. Written by Tonino Benacquista, Luc Besson and Michael Caleo. Directed by Besson. 112 minutes. Rated R.

  • COED Writer
    Watches movies and games for work, then watches more movies and plays more games on his downtime. A movie and video game critic since 2001, Phil is the author of Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, Stormin' Mormon and Zeta Male. Twitter: @philvillarreal