If "The Sopranos" had ended with Tony turning informant and being whisked away into the witness protection program, "The Family" could have been a big-screen sequel to the TV show.
As the movie opens, Giovanni Monzani (Robert De Niro) is living under the alias Fred Blake in France with his wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), and two kids, Warren (John D’Leo) and Belle ("Glee’s" Dianna Agron). They are moving to a small town after being found out in their previous hideout on the French Riviera.
The children are complaining about the long road trip and the rank smell inside the car. Fred tells them they should have given their German Shepherd a bath before they left. But a couple of scenes later, we find out the reason for the stench is a corpse Fred stashed in the trunk. Once everyone has gone to sleep, he buries the body in the middle of nowhere.
That opening bit is strongly reminiscent of "GoodFellas," one of the many movies director Luc Besson references in sly, funny ways. Adapted from Tonino Benacquista’s farcical novel "Malavita," "The Family" is the rare breed of pitch-black comedy that uses violence seriously or comically, depending on the situation.
The Blakes are under the protective eye of a CIA agent (Tommy Lee Jones) who is increasingly exasperated by Fred’s refusal to behave. The former mobster finds a typewriter in the new house and decides to write his memoirs, recounting his criminal past in detail.
Writing soothes him, fills his time. But when a plumber tries to fleece him for repairs, he breaks the man’s leg in seven places. And after he finds out the reason the tap water in the house is brown has to do with a nearby chemical processing plant, he builds a bomb.
Fred isn’t the only member of the family with a killer instinct. When Maggie goes to the grocery store and overhears the owner trash-talking Americans in French, she pays for her items with a smile, then blows up the place on her way out.
In high school, Warren quickly builds his own network of intimidation, exacting sweet and clever revenge on the kids who bullied him. Belle is an even tougher cookie, doling out the hurt at some boys who think American girls are all sluts.
Pfeiffer gets to mine the menacing aspect of her beauty and De Niro, who lately has been going through the motions, seems fully engaged and excited by this role.
"The Family" climaxes with an extremely suspenseful shootout that leaves a high body count and wracked nerves in its wake. But what you remember most are the funny bits and the unconditional love these twisted family members have for each other.