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It Runs in the Family (April 24/03)

It Runs in the Family marks the first onscreen collaboration between Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas, and it's a shame the film is so cliched and obvious. Though it is essentially entertaining the whole way through (even if it does take about 15 minutes longer to end than it should), the film is nevertheless a disappointment if only because of the surfeit of talent present.

There's not much of a plot here; we're presented with the Gromberg family and watch them do stuff over the space of a few weeks. Mitchell (Kirk Douglas) is the patriarch, a stern man who's recovering from a stroke. Alex (Michael Douglas), his son, tries to be there for the man but can't forget how his father treated him while he was growing up. His own two sons, Asher and Eli (Cameron Douglas and Rory Culkin), have their own problems; Asher's trying to find his way in the world, while Eli's hoping to just work up the courage to talk to a girl in his class. And when a death brings the Grombergs back together, the family begins to learn how to relate to each other.

It Runs in the Family's been directed by Fred Schepisi, and he's clearly in no rush to tell this story. With a running time of close to two hours, the film's leisurely pace is exacerbated the lack of a concrete story. But it remains watchable mostly because these are characters that are genuinely interesting (if a little one-note), and it certainly doesn't hurt that the cast is populated with such talented actors. Michael Douglas gives a typically enjoyable performance, while his son, Cameron, proves to be an affable presence (though his attempt at sobbing isn't entirely convincing). As for Kirk, the effects of his stroke are still quite visible, and he seems to be trying awfully hard to demonstrate that it hasn't affected his abilities as an actor. As a result, his performance is somewhat over-the-top and smacks of eagerness; there's not much subtlety to his performance.

But the same can be said about the film's storyline, which is incredibly simplistic. Periphery characters are introduced for no discernable reason, with the most obvious example of this being a girl Asher begins seeing. By the time the end rolls around, it becomes clear that her presence was completely superfluous. Likewise, a a subplot involving Eli's karate lessons seems to exist only so he can beat up a gang of punks that have been harassing him. In all fairness, though, this isn't a movie that's packed with plot; screenwriter Jesse Wigutow had to find something for his characters to do other than talk. But had the film been pared down to less than 90-minutes, it would've been far more effective and likely wouldn't have had to resort to obviousness.

It Runs in the Family is entertaining, albeit in an incredibly predictable way. Movie fans will probably be delighted to see four Douglas' in the same movie, but it really is disappointing that - after waiting so long to co-star with each other - this is the best they could come up with.

out of

About the DVD: MGM presents It Runs in the Family with a virtually flawless 2.35:1 transfer, and have also included a nice amount of supplemental material. Director Fred Schepisi contributes an audio commentary, and proves to have a lot to say about his film (he talks about the birth of the film in script form all the way through to the casting of Cameron Douglas). Also included is a 28-minute documentary detailing the making of the film, containing interviews with all the major players. There's not that much info to be gleaned from this doc that isn't already covered in the commentary, but it's pleasant enough. There's also a seven-minute tribute to Kirk Douglas, mostly featuring Michael Douglas talking about his father. Finally, an extensive photo gallery, three deleted scenes, and the film's trailer (along with a few MGM trailers) round out the disc's extras.
© David Nusair