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It Runs in the Family

  It Runs in the Family
Sadly, the boat remained afloat.

© 2003, MGM
All Rights Reserved

For Alex Gromberg (Michael Douglas), just keeping his family in one piece is the most he can ask for. With his grandfather, Mitchell (Kirk Douglas, an incomparable film icon, whose speech has been badly impaired by a stroke), recovering from a stroke and dealing with aging, his mother Evelyn (Diana Douglas) also confronting her old age fears, and a son (Cameron Douglas), who cannot seem to stay in school, stay sober, or understand how to treat women, Alex has his hands full. And that's not counting his own adulterous ways, and inability to communicate with his wife of 22 years (Bernadette Peters).

"It Runs in the Family" (IMDb listing) was conceived as a film for almost the entire acting Douglas clan to take part in. It's like a 100-minute family album that might be able to siphon a few bucks from the fans before it spends the rest of its days sitting on the collective shelves of the actors, waiting for that cold winter night when they can all gather around the fire and look back on the little film they did to spend some time together. Sweet, ain't it?

Not exactly. "Family" isn't all hugs and memories. It's more a cruel and unusual exercise in Hollywood fat-cat indulgence, filled with completely unpleasant characters, scenes that ramble on, and a cast that, for various reasons, have no place on the silver screen. Why would anyone want to spend time with the Douglas family, ahem, I'm sorry, "The Grombergs," unless they were a Douglas? That's the trick of the film. "It Runs in the Family" is a picture made only for that small group of people, and not the general audience. I can't see how something this artistically inert, this morally hazy, this poorly made could end up on screen unless it had the weight of this acting dynasty behind it.

Director Fred Schepisi has done much better work. His previous film, "Last Orders" was a far more compelling and realistic take on the loneliness of growing old (and unlike this film, it was blessedly free of fart gags). In "Family," Schepisi goes for maudlin emotion and easy audience-pleasing moments to get by. Maybe he was forced to do so by producer Michael Douglas, but nevertheless, "Family" is so manipulative with its heartfelt moments that you can almost hear Kirk Douglas behind you cutting onions.

I'm also not terribly thrilled with how the script was tailored to mirror the Douglas family's real life personal troubles, with Cameron/Asher's drug problems and Michael/Alex's infidelities. It's kind of creepy when you put it into context. And that's only the tip of the iceberg with these characters, especially the men, who come off as boorish lotharios who really have no right to be with the women they're with. I'm not asking for these wacky creations to be overwhelmingly likeable, but Schepisi doesn't follow through with anything the characters do or say, and concludes the film with many loose ends still up in the air.

Maybe I should just be thankful there at least was an ending.

As for the title, I'm not sure what it is that "Runs in the Family." Could it be rampant infidelity? A distinct lack of chemistry? Maybe even a desire to air their dirty laundry? Whatever the case may be, I know for certain it isn't entertainment.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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