It Runs In The Family

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Drama
Director: Fred Schepisi
Starring: Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Cameron Douglas, Diana Douglas, Rory Culkin
Rated: PG-13

The Real Cancun may purport to be a reality film, but it’s not the only “reality-based” movie opening this week. We also have Fred Schepisi’s It Runs in the Family, which slaps three generations of the Kirk Douglas family — plus one ex-wife (and that’s not to mention Michael’s brother, Joel, in an associate-producer capacity) — on the screen in what can only be described as a well-intentioned vanity picture (or, possibly, a last-ditch effort at securing an acting career for Cameron Douglas).

One might rightly ask what runs in this family; based on the evidence here, it’s nepotism. This is not a horrible film, but it’s remarkably unexciting and formulaic. The script by Jesse Wigutow (who also authored something with the improbable name Sweet Friggin’ Daisies) is, frankly, a plodding mess. It appears to draw on the real-life relationships of the Douglas clan — a la casting Henry and Jane Fonda in On Golden Pond — but not exactly. Possibly the tone is right, but the facts have been changed to protect the cliches. And, of course, the whole thing requires playing kind of fast and loose to cast Kirk and Diana Douglas as husband and wife, considering they’ve been divorced since 1951. Why it was deemed necessary to drag in a younger son for Michael Douglas’ character — it just makes the film meander that much more — I have no idea; but lacking a bona fide Douglas to draw on, they cast Rory Culkin in this role (How many Culkins are there anyway? And can’t they be stopped?). Giving the boy a 12-year-old Goth girlfriend (who seems to have wandered in from About a Boy) doesn’t really expand the film either.

What we basically have is Kirk Douglas playing Mitchell Gromberg, a crusty old patriarch slightly felled by a stroke (“The only difference is that now he can’t enunciate his insults”), coming to terms with his hotshot-lawyer son, Alex (Michael Douglas), who in turn is having to come to terms with his no-account, dope-dealing son, Asher (Cameron Douglas), and his excessively strange younger son, Eli (Culkin). The film isn’t many minutes old before Mitchell’s wife, Evelyn (Diana Douglas), talks about visiting a house from her past, suggesting that her desire to do so is an omen. No prizes for guessing Catastrophic Event No. 1 (though bonus points may be awarded for correctly guessing in what reel Evelyn will expire). There aren’t prizes for guessing further catastrophic events, either; the film is just too driven by formula to afford any surprises.

Director Fred Schepisi — who must have thought that he had another Last Orders here — puts his head down and barges on through the material with enough determination to keep it all moving and watchable. Of course, he’s helped out by Kirk and Michael Douglas, who manage to imbue their characters and dialogue with more weight and dignity than the script merits. Diana Douglas adds to Family as well, and her dance with Kirk is a magical little moment in a film that badly needed a few more. And then there’s Cameron Douglas, about whom I’ll just note that his myriad tattoos are more interesting than he is. There are certainly many worse movies out there, but considering the talent involved here, it’s hard not to feel cheated by this one.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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