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Dustin Putman

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It Runs In The Family (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Fred Schepisi
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Cameron Douglas, Rory Culkin, Bernadette Peters, Diana Douglas, Michelle Monaghan, Irene Gorovaia, Sarita Choudhury, Geoffrey Arend.
2003 – 109 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language, drug use, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 26, 2003.

Directed by Fred Schepisi (2001's "Last Orders"), "It Runs in the Family" is a conceited, self-involved comedy-drama that is a literal family affair—Michael Douglas (2001's "Don't Say a Word"), father Kirk Douglas (1999's "Diamonds"), mother Diana Douglas, and son Cameron Douglas are all on hand. There are so many Douglas' running around, in fact, that onscreen-only family members Rory Culkin (2002's "Signs") and Bernadette Peters nearly seem like impostors in the grand scheme of things. While it is nice to see Kirk and Michael playing father and son, they should have kept looking for the right project.

The Grombergs are your typical dysfunctional, wisecracking Jewish family. Alex (Michael Douglas), who works at a soup kitchen in his spare time, considers an affair with a younger coworker (Sarita Choudhury), despite having been married to Rebecca (Bernadette Peters) for 22 years. Fifth-year college son Asher (Cameron Douglas) isn't as interested in education as he is in dealing drugs and winning the heart of a fellow student (Michelle Monaghan). His 11-year-old brother, Eli (Rory Culkin), is just discovering the opposite sex, and gets a crush on a wild, former runaway schoolmate (Irene Gorovaia). Meanwhile, parents Mitchell (Kirk Douglas) and Evelyn (Diana Douglas) are dealing with the effects of getting old--he's recovering from a stroke and she's being treated for dialysis.

"It Runs in the Family" has a handful of understated moments of truth, but most of it is hokey, unoriginal, and amazingly smug. Written by Jesse Wigutow (what, couldn't Loretta Douglas, Michael's second-cousin-removed, have written it?), the film is so bankrupt of fresh or enlivening story ideas that it throws into the pot two major deaths, a marital dispute, a possible affair, a pair of young romances, and an extremely unconventional form of cremation. With all of these various threads swirling about, credit director Fred Shepisi for mostly avoiding a mawkish tone. Give him a demerit for sloppily handling the stream of subplots, some of which are never satisfactorily concluded before the end credits have arrived.

Dare it seem like "It Runs in the Family" is a total wipeout, it should be said that there are individual scenes and performances that are effective. Kirk Douglas, his speech impeded by a real-life 1995 stroke, is equally endearing and poignant as a man whose stubbornness doesn't always allow him to say the things he feels toward his loved ones. Michael Douglas plays off him well, and there is no denying the easy rapport that obviously comes from them being related.

In his first film role, Cameron Douglas handles himself admirably, particularly in the scenes he shares with lovely, under-fed newcomer Michelle Monaghan (2002's "Unfaithful"). And Rory Culkin, so excellent as Mel Gibson's son in "Signs," continues to strengthen his acting résumé with wise-beyond-his-years turns. A scene in which Culkin bonds with his burgeoning girlfriend after they skip out on a middle school dance is beautifully handled in its unforced subtlety. Only Bernadette Peters appears to be out of her element, bogged down by overplayed histrionics.

There is an audience that may genuinely enjoy "It Runs in the Family," but they are likely to either be Michael or Kirk fans, and/or over the age of 65. Savvier viewers will be able to see right through this thoroughly mediocre film's charade. There is nothing outright terrible about the finished product, but in its stringently commonplace existence are 109 minutes that unveil just how unnecessary and too cute by a half this particular family outing is.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman