See This/Skip That: From The Family to Blue Caprice

See This/Skip That: From The Family to Blue Caprice
Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro in The Family
Jessica Forde

updated 09/13/2013 at 01:00 PM EDT

originally published 09/13/2013 06:15PM

A former Grey’s Anatomy star makes a comeback in Blue Caprice, but even Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer can’t get The Family together. What to see and what to skip this weeked at the movies:

Flip a Coin on This One

The Family
My better instinct is to tell you to skip The Family, Luc Besson’s comedy/drama about a Mob clan living in witness protection in Normandy. It’s far more violent and less funny than it needs to be, with a slow, meandering plot that’s guilty of stalling as it holds out for the big finale. But there are some redeeming elements, including a few jokes that hit their targets and Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, who are no slouches in the Mafia comedy department, having made Analyze This and Married to the Mob, respectively.

This film deposits the Blakes – in Brooklyn they were known as the Manzonis – in Normandy after failed placements in Paris and the Riviera. (Clearly you and I went into the wrong lines of work.) They have a stately older home in a charming little village, for which they don’t have to lift a finger, as they’re watched over by their Witness Protection handler, Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones, doing what he does). Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop Maggie (Pfeiffer) from blowing up the local grocery store, Fred (De Niro) from pummeling the plumber, or kids Belle (Dianna Agron) and Blake (the hilarious John D’Leo) from turning their new schoolmates into conned, cowering dupes.

It’s a great setup that goes nowhere. For the better part of two hours, the movie concerns itself with oh-so-riveting storylines about dirty tap water, neighborhood barbecues and Maggie’s pasta, with a distinct lightness to its black comedy. But it all goes exceedingly dark as mobsters look to collect the $20 million bounty on Fred’s head, resulting in far more violence than you’ll see coming, even some gratuitously involving the kids. There’s a way to mesh such distinctly different tones, but The Family doesn’t find it. Whether solid performances from De Niro and Pfeiffer are enough to overcome such deficits is entirely up to you.



But See This

Blue Caprice
Coloring in the outlines of the Beltway Sniper case, the spare, taut Caprice explains (as well as anyone could) how a needy teen became a serial killer. It also marks an impressive comeback for Grey’s Anatomy actor Isaiah Washington, who plays a frighteningly effective tutor in terror.

In 2002, former soldier John Allen Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, killed 10 people in the Washington D.C. area, shooting their victims out of the back of a tricked-out blue Chevy Caprice.

In the film, Washington’s John meets Lee (Everybody Hates Chris’s Tequan Richmond) in the Caribbean and becomes a surrogate father. When Lee and John reconnect in the States sometime later, however, their friendship takes a sinister turn. Washington is a study in rage, controlled then unleashed, as he fills Lee’s head with poison about everything from his women to politics. He teaches the boy how to shoot and makes him endure vicious survival tests in the woods. Eventually, he orders him to kill.

In its spare 93 minutes, Blue Caprice is more focused on Lee’s conditioning than it is on the crimes that resulted in Muhammad’s execution and Boyd’s life imprisonment, but the film certainly lays bare the brutality and randomness of the murders. It’s a haunting case, given a rare Hollywood treatment that actually enhances our understanding of such incomprehensible acts.

Skip This

Jayne Mansfield’s Car
Billy Bob Thornton returns as director, co-writer and star of this Southern Gothic dark comedy that’s neither funny enough nor dark enough to make much of an impression. It’s a family reunion of sorts when a remarried Southern matriarch dies in the care of her new clan of mannered Brits, who then escort her body home to Alabama for burial. The families are hostile at first, but warm to each other in contrived ways, with Thornton’s battle-scarred Skip taking a kinky interest in Frances O’Connor’s Camilla, while natty Phillip makes eyes with married belle Donna (Katherine LaNasa).

Meanwhile, the fathers (Robert Duvall and John Hurt) share grievances about their kids, with an abundance of heavy dialogue about war and the nature of father/son relationships. It’s overly talky with a plot twist near the end that’s positively cringe-worthy. Leave this Car by the side of the road.

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