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"IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY"
(2003) (Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Various generations of a family try to overcome their dysfunctional ways and difficulties in communicating with one another.
PLOT:
It's been a year since retired lawyer Mitchell Gromberg (KIRK DOUGLAS) had a stroke, but other than some speech problems, he's doing well, much to his surprise. After picking up his brother, Stephen (MARK HAMMER), who's been institutionalized for dementia, he joins his wife, Evelyn (DIANA DOUGLAS), for dinner with his lawyer son, Alex (MICHAEL DOUGLAS), his therapist wife, Rebecca (BERNADETTE PETERS), and their two sons, 11-year-old Eli (RORY CULKIN) and 21-year-old Asher (CAMERON DOUGLAS).

Although they're mostly civil, the various generations of the Gromberg clan don't necessarily get along. Rebecca is worried that they don't verbally communicate enough with the smart but introverted Eli, who's just starting to be interested in the opposite sex. In particular, he likes Abby Staley (IRENE GOROVAIA), a troubled former runaway who's just returned to school.

He's a good kid, however, compared to Asher who routinely skips his college classes in favor of dealing pot to others and serving as a deejay at local clubs. His romantic interest is Peg Maloney (MICHELLE MONAGHAN), a classmate who initially doesn't like him, but eventually warms up to his charming ways.

That trait apparently runs in the family as Alex finds himself the object of attraction to Suzie (SARITA CHOUDHURY), a woman who volunteers in the local soup kitchen with him. When Rebecca finds Suzie's underwear in Alex's coat pocket, things become even more strained in the Gromberg household, a point exacerbated by an unexpected death. From that point on, the various members of the family try to deal with their various problems and difficulties in communicating with each other.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
To the chagrin of parents worldwide, the traits they dislike about themselves often show up in their kids. At the same time, those they like or use to make a living -- be it from looks, talent or smarts - sometimes are passed down from one generation to the next. One such group concerns movie stars who, through good luck/timing, nepotism or actual skill, manage to make it in the business just like their parent or grandparent.

It's still too early to tell whether Cameron Douglas has inherited the acting gene or tenacity that made his father, Michael, or grandfather, Kirk, Hollywood legends. After all, his appearance with them and Kirk's ex-wife Diana in the appropriately titled "It Runs in the Family" is just his second following a bit part in a friend's independent film.

Based on what's on display in this story about strained family relations and repeating or attempting to avoid making similar mistakes from one generation to the next, there's no hurry to make space for yet another set of Douglas handprints on the Hollywood walk of fame.

To be fair to the 24-year-old, the odds are stacked against him. After all, it has to be a daunting task to not only work with such Hollywood icons, but also have them as relatives who'd hate to see the family name be tarnished.

Cameron thankfully doesn't stink up the place, but then again he's no great revelation. Nor does he get much help from the over ambitious script by Jesse Wigutow (making his feature debut) or the uneven direction by Fred Schepisi ("Last Orders," "I.Q."). By trying to tell the tale of a grandfather, his son, the two grandson and their various significant others, the filmmakers don't give any particular story enough time to develop.

The forced parallels, exposition, melodrama and maudlin moments certainly don't help matters. While the film might appease or at least appeal to less discerning members of the older target audience, most everything about it feels contrived and artificial.

Viewers are apt to be reminded of other similar films featuring real-life relatives playing onscreen family members such as "On Golden Pond." Yet, the drama, comedy and mix thereof simply aren't conceived or executed well enough to make the effort pay off and be as poignant, thought-provoking and/or entertaining as it should be.

That's not to say that the film doesn't have its moments. Although the strained father-son dynamic on display here is contrived and stale, Michael ("The In-Laws," "Don't Say a Word") and Kirk ("Diamonds," "Spartacus") occasionally get or generate some good moments together, which just so happens to be their first time working side by side onscreen.

Kirk's real-life results of a stroke are written into the part here and the wily veteran gets some good mileage - and some nice, touching moments by himself - out of that and other "old age" material. He's reunited with real-life ex-wife Diana ("Planes, Trains & Automobiles," "The Star Chamber") after more than 50 years of divorce, and the chemistry between the two is pitch-perfect as they don't miss a beat together.

This clearly isn't the best work from Michael and it's hard to say if that's due to him pulling in the reigns so as not to upstage the "old man." Whatever the case, his performance is uneven, although it's not without its individual flourishes.

Bernadette Peters ("Snow Days," "Pennies From Heaven") gets the undesirable role of playing his hurt wife who believes he's having an affair. The actress can't do much with the part that has her constantly alternating between normalcy, melodrama and coming off as something of a harpy.

Rory Culkin ("Signs," "Igby Goes Down") joins the younger Douglas in playing one of their kids and delivers a believable performance as a confused but smart "tween" who's just discovering the opposite sex. Irene Gorovaia ("The Royal Tenenbaums") and Michelle Monaghan ("Unfaithful," "Perfume") play the respective objects of their affection, but their characters and/or performances leave a lot to be desired.

In short, there's really nothing here you haven't see countless times before in terms of dramedies about dysfunctional families and their various trials and tribulations. That is, except for the pairing of Douglas and Douglas, which alone is nearly worth the price of admission.

It's just too bad their reason for finally appearing together isn't as worthy as their combined presence. Palatable for less discerning viewers but probably asking a bit much for everyone else, "It Runs in the Family" has its moments, but only rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed April 25, 2003 / Posted April 26, 2003


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