It Runs In The Family

2003, Movie, PG-13, 109 mins

Review

IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY
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A wealthy New York clan tries to settle old feuds in this mild-mannered ensemble piece, designed to exploit the mystique — such as it is — of Hollywood's Douglas dynasty. Patriarch Mitchell Gromberg (Kirk Douglas) has recently survived a debilitating stroke; his diabetic wife, Evelyn (Diana Douglas), requires exhausting dialysis treatments and his senile brother, Stephen (Mark Hammer), is dribbling away his last days in a nursing home. Mitchell's middle-aged son and daughter-in-law, Alex and Rebecca (Michael Douglas, Bernadette Peters), are harried professionals who spend too much time at work; Alex hates corporate law and therapist Bernadette is understandably afraid that they're losing touch with their boys. College-age slacker Asher (Cameron Douglas) deflects every parental query with a joke and sixth-grader Eli (Rory Culkin) doesn't say much at all — when he wants a bigger allowance, he draws up a spreadsheet. The film starts at a migraine-inducing Passover seder, proceeds through two funerals, several grand emotional blowouts and an arrest, finally arriving at a tentative detente between generations. Director Fred Schepisi's LAST ORDERS (2001) is exactly the kind of rueful, bittersweet comedy-drama this film appears intended to be, but the mawkish sitcom schtick about loved ones driving each other crazy defeats him. Clearly geared for an older audience, its heartwarming raison d'etre, the stunt casting of real-life family members, may resonate with viewers old enough to remember Kirk as a swaggering star. Kirk, who survived a real-life stroke, isn't acting the ravages of age and infirmity; he embodies them, and if you're unfamiliar with the brash physicality and arrogance that once defined his performances there's nothing on screen but a frail old man gamely trying to enunciate through recalcitrant lips. His son Michael's smug screen presence undermines Alex's crisis of conscience, and while Michael's son, Cameron, lacks the acting skills to make Asher more than a caricature. He nails the callow jerk whose parents need to stop subsidizing his goofing off, but if Asher has inner depths, Cameron can't evoke them. The elegant Diana (a minor actress in her heyday who now radiates restrained grace under pressure) was married to Kirk for eight years and her sons — Michael and associate producer Joel — must have melted at the sight of their parents dancing together onscreen half a century after their divorce. But to an outsider, it's pretty thin stuff. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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