It Runs in the Family

Kirk Douglas is an amazing actor. Kirk's son Michael is also an amazing actor. Kirk's first wife Diana is also an actor. Michael's son Cameron is fresh in his acting career. Rory Culkin belongs to another acting family, and for some reason, he's here. Maybe he got lost. They all come together in It Runs in the Family, for no other reason than to act together as a family. With an Oscar each for Kirk and Michael, one would think that for their first movie they would pick one better than this. Yes, parts of it seem to mimic their familial structure (most notably the character Kirk plays is recovering from a stroke), but all it feels so sitcom-like in its broad characterizations, clumsy attempts at humor, and predictable plotting. The movie is sub-par, yet it is fun watching the Douglases that this offsets the poor quality of the film to a certain degree.

Mitchell Gromberg (Kirk, Diamonds, Greedy) is the patriarch of the family. He started the law firm his son Alex (Michael, Don't Say a Word, One Night at McCool's) now works at, yet Alex is not a partner. Mitchell is a feisty old bastard that relies on his wife (Diana, Cold Heaven, Planes, Trains and Automobiles) for most of his needs. Mitchell and Alex are not close. Alex resents the way that Mitchell raised him, and has not been able to forgive him. In the same fashion, Alex has a strained relationship with is son Asher (Cameron, Mr. Nice Guy). Asher is the typical rebellious teenager. He's slacking off in college, hot for women, and selling drugs on the side. His other son Eli (Culkin, Signs, Igby Goes Down) acts like a middle-aged banker.

The main problem comes from Jesse Wigutow's (Sweet Friggin' Daisies, Ugly Naked People) script. Wigutow wants to make It Runs in the Family a family comedy, where all the relatives fight, but deep down they love each other. Each family member must undergo some sort of stress that initially strains their relationship, but in the end everybody comes together. This is fine and dandy, but Wigutow gives something to everybody, and then fails to tie everything up in the end. The focus stays on the relationship between Mitchell and Alex, so other plot threads dangle at the end. Alex's sons begin relationships with women who are their polar opposite. Asher begins dating studious good girl Peg (Michelle Monaghan, Unfaithful, Perfume), and Eli has a crush on goth runaway Abby (The Royal Tenenbaums). Meanwhile, Alex's marriage to Rebecca (Bernadette Peters, Let It Snow, Prince Charming) is at a point where everything is blah.

Not only that, but Alex's professional career is also in the doldrums. He once was an advocate for the public, now he is a slave to large corporations. And Mitchell has a sick brother whose condition is deteriorating. Everything has a contrived feeling to it, so the viewer just waits for everybody to forgive each other and realize that as bad as things are, they have each other. There is a lot of humor in the film, and some of it is mildly amusing. Wigutow and director Fred Schepisi (Last Orders, Fierce Creatures) need to exaggerate everybody's emotions to make things seems more outrageous, and this only makes the characters feel one-dimensional. Part of the joke is that interaction between the Douglas clan may be autobiographical, but in the end, who really cares? It is nice seeing Kirk and Michael on screen together, and they are smart enough to bring a little more grace to their roles than the script requires, and they are probably the reason It Runs in the Family ends up better than it actually is.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 49 minutes, Rated PG-13 for drug content, sexual material, and language.

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