Skip to main content

Hey; if you can't do the time, don't do the crime.


Family Business
(1989)

Part of the fun of Connery in his late career bloom is watching him parry with his younger co-stars. Sometimes his opponents pull their weight (Ford, Costner), at others they stumble and fall (Harmon, Gere). Seeing him opposite Dustin Hoffman, the effect is less straightforward. It’s not so much that Hoffman is seven years younger yet playing Connery’s son that’s disorientatin (although it does seem like a stretch, particularly since at no point does Dustin ask “Are you sure you’re my dad?”) It’s that you’re conscious of the clash of acting styles, and at no point does the “son” emerge looking like the winner.


Hoffman plays the Sicilian son of the Scottish/Irish Connery (does he ever play otherwise, the occasional Spaniard excepted?) In more recent years Hoffman has been upfront about the randomness of playing Sean’s boy (“That was the silliest piece of casting I ever did”), and how he did it for the money, not the art (you can tell). He’s also intimated that he and Connery may not have had the best of relationships (when someone starts a sentence with “I like Sean, but..” you can tell a volume of information has been left unsaid); Hoffman is notoriously specific about his roles and wants to take the time to get them just so (ask poor Sydney Pollack) whereas, as he puts it, “Sean didn’t like to do more than two takes because he likes golf”. Yet that infuriating exactness is completely at odds with his role as Vito. He’s adrift here, with only the thinnest of hooks to hang his character on. It’s a movie that only makes sense once you have the stars; without it, you wonder why anyone would want to make it.


Which means that the main pleasure is in seeing Connery’s big Jessie effortlessly demolish Hoffman in every scene they share. Even funnier is the sight of Hoffman getting a bit physical with Connery during an outburst. It looks like he's trying to impress the Scot through sheer force of personality but Connery only has to burr something in order to blow him off the screen (and make him look a little silly). Connery knows how to achieve a lot by doing very little. It’s the antithesis of his co-star. (Also notable is his character’s casual racism ["Up yours, you guinea midget!"]; coming hot on the heels of The Untouchables it almost appears as if it’s a regular feature of his comeback period roles.)


Maybe Hoffman was trying to prove something to the sterling Scott about his take on the art of thesping. Maybe he just thought creating a bit of tension would work for the father-son butting of heads. Except Hoffman’s not at home in this role. He never feels as loose or natural as his co-stars, and it’s likely for the reasons noted (alternatively, you might argue he’s just playing the uptight dad and son; whatever the truth of the matter, he’s not at his best). Generally I’m a fan of his work, but if he doesn't have a role that justifies his obsessive approach, he can end up making a meal of everything - as he does here.


If Hoffman’s observation that Connery and Lumet were a good pairing is a little disparaging, it’s also fair. This was the fifth and final collaboration between them  and, unfortunately, by some distance the weakest. Lumet had a workhorse ethic with regard to moviemaking, for better or worse, and he churned out a picture a year, year in year out until the ‘90s. His quality control was variable, but he was rarely two movies away from a critical or commercial success. It was only around this period that his judgement began to veer determinedly off the tracks. The Verdict is his last classic, and Q&A (the year after Family Business) his last great movie. What attracted him to Family Business is unclear, but it’s a New York crime movie so the familiar milieu may have held promise.


Vincent Patrick (his only other screenplay is the lacklustre The Devil’s Own) adapted his own novel, about the McMullen family and their flirtations with criminality. The youngest member of the family (Adam; Matthew Broderick), something of a prodigy and a college dropout, brings Jessie his idea for a job, and it isn’t long before Vito (who has forsaken a life of crime for a meat packing business) is reluctantly roped in. When things go wrong, and Adam is arrested, the riffs between Vito and Adam and Vito and Jessie widen.


The script is contrived enough even before the casting director came up with the unlikely grandfather-father-son team. Patrick brings nothing new to the intergenerational feuding and rivalry. The “You were never there for me” and “You never asked me what I wanted” running hang-ups are so clichéd you want to tell them to just stop already. Patrick embarks on a misguided attempt to create a sense of nobility about the McMullen's chosen "profession"; Jessie is disgusted at the immorality of Adam's girlfriend, labelling her a parasite for profiting from the sale of terminal patients' apartments. It's the kind of artificiality that is born of nervousness over whether or not the protagonists will prove sympathetic. The robbery itself is almost incidental, but it’s the most engaging part of the picture. There's a sense that this plot line had more beats to it but they got ironed out, Jessie’s investigation of what really went on occurs mostly off-screen (amounting to a confrontation in a car and an info-dump of exposition) when the DNA research shenanigans actually hold a spark more interest than Lumet perhaps had confidence in.


It’s all down hill from there, unfortunately. Following the rather unconvincing sentencing (from Back to the Future’s Strickland, no less) the last half hour descends into unearned melodramatics and maudlin remonstrations. It doesn’t seem like the right place to take a story that, for all the thesping and conflict, has been fairly lightweight. None of this is helped by Cy Coleman’s inappropriate and listless score, actively working against any drama or suspense; it doesn’t suit anything other than inane ambling.


Broderick holds his own against his peers, although his inexperienced preppy kid, who knows nothing of the mean streets, is something he could do in his sleep. But he’s always been a very natural performer, and the idea that he’s Hoffman’s son is a lot less silly than that of Hoffman/Connery. As he’s drifted into middle age he’s been typecast as the straight-edger, which is a shame; he should get a chance to call on that Bueller charm once in a while. Rosanna DeSoto also deserves a mention as Hoffman’s wife; her naturalism in a bit role is more than the film deserves, particularly with Hoffman hogging the screen with his tics and quirks. Elsewhere, there’s an early appearance from Luis Guzman. The Wire’s Wendell Pierce shows up briefly too, playing a prosecutor.


These sorts of generational ensembles always sound better on paper than they turn out. The same thing happened about a decade later with Brando/De Niro/Norton in The Score. Like that film, you can’t help but find something worthwhile in seeing grand thesps match (or mismatch) each other. But the stronger sense is of a missed opportunity. That said, I would never have expected Connery and Hoffman to star opposite each other anyway; it would have surprised me even more if it had worked.

**1/2 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.