- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

Kirk and Michael Douglas have long pined for a project to unite them on screen.
   Perhaps they ran out of patience; their first co-starring vehicle, “It Runs in the Family,” is hardly the inspired choice one might have wished.
  It also isn’t the embarrassing vanity project that one might have feared.
  If that still qualifies as a sharp disappointment, it’s only because of the good will and high expectations engendered by two actors who between them have spent decades on Hollywood’s A-list.
  “Family” features three generations of the famous Douglas clan father, son and grandson Cameron, a relative screen newcomer. Rounding out the cast is Diana Douglas, Kirk Douglas’ ex-wife and Michael Douglas’ mother. (Just try getting a wide theatrical release for your family’s home videos.)
  Charting the Douglas family tree is harder than dissecting this simple yarn of family strife.
  Director Fred Schepisi (2001’s “Last Orders”) wisely stands back and lets the actors bicker and battle much of the time, in quarrels that seem anchored in genuine emotions.
  Less advisable is how “Family” keeps reminding us of the true blood ties we’re watching. Several scenes wrap with ponderous pans over family snapshots, clearly borrowed from the Douglas archives. It’s hard to invest ourselves in these characters when we are reminded continually that they are little more than pretexts for a Douglas family vehicle.
  That said, only a curmudgeon would deny the pleasure of seeing Kirk and Michael Douglas side by side, particularly during more somber moments when their characters reflect on mistakes made over a lifetime.
  Family patriarch Mitchell Gromberg (Kirk Douglas) is a year removed from a debilitating stroke, a nod to the actor’s actual condition, but he is still feisty enough to give his relatives fits. Son Alex (Michael Douglas) is a successful lawyer with a beautiful wife (Bernadette Peters) and two healthy boys, Asher and Eli (Cameron Douglas and Rory Culkin).
  The family gathers for a traditional Seder meal, but all isn’t well beneath the sparkling surface. Asher is flunking out of college, and Eli doesn’t say much to his parents. When the youngster wants an increase in his allowance, he lets a spreadsheet breaking down his expenses speak for him.
  Alex, for all his wealth, still feels incomplete without papa’s unconditional love. He signs up for pro bono work and volunteers at a soup kitchen, where he almost has an affair with an amorous fellow volunteer. That slip opens a rift in his otherwise solid marriage.
  Meanwhile, a death in the family forces the clan to reassess why, with all their good fortune, they just can’t seem to say what’s on their minds.
  “Family” telegraphs too many of its emotional blows. Each character has his or her contrived moment to shine or make us laugh.
  Young Rory’s romantic subplot with a rebellious classmate, for example, is so thin it seems sketched in invisible ink.
  Kirk Douglas’ 1996 stroke permanently impaired his speech, so it’s difficult to critique much of his performance. Suffice it to say that when his trademark dimpled chin juts forward and the ever-thick mane of hair is swept back like that of an aging monarch, he commands the screen without saying a word.
  Mr. Schepisi brings a patchy resume to “Family,” from the inspired “Roxanne” (1987) to the unwatched “I.Q.” (1994) and unwatchable “Fierce Creatures” (1997).
  His approach here is equally scattershot. The inevitable father-and-son scenes work best, while the interplay between Alex and his wife is forced.
  A scene in which the three Douglas men go fishing on a tiny boat should have been a lump-in-the-throat moment for movie fans. Instead, it’s played for a cheap laugh out of the “Grumpy Old Men” school of humor.
  Cameron Douglas, whose face is reminiscent of his father’s but more pinched and less Hollywood-friendly, holds his own as the family’s luckless slacker. Yet it’s hard to imagine him matching the success of his father and grandfather, should he follow them into the family craft.
  This “Family” reunion should have been warmer, funnier or at least more emotionally revealing. Instead, we’re left to savor an aging icon battling on with the help of his loved ones.
  
  **1/2
  TITLE: “It Runs in the Family”
  RATING: PG-13 (Salty language, marijuana use, sexual situations)
  CREDITS: Directed by Fred Schepisi, written by Jesse Wigutow.
  RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
  MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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