It Runs in the Family Fred Schepisi

It Runs in the Family Fred Schepisi
There are, count'em, four Douglases in It Runs in the Family: grandparents Kirk and Diana, father Michael and son Cameron. Alongside the rare satisfaction of seeing a screen family that actually looks related, how is it possible not to ponder: "aristocracy, meritocracy, or sheer old-fashioned nepotism?"

Happily, it is mostly meritocracy in Fred Shepisi's well-managed effort to direct the fictitiously malfunctioning Gromberg clan out of a crisis brought on by generally negligent emotional house-keeping, through catharsis and back to the love that glues them together. The dynasty, in concert with Bernadette Peters and Rory Culkin, and excellent production design by Patrizia von Brandenstein, tangibly evokes people who live in real places. The environments are important because the family is definitely particular to a class of privilege and entitlement, where strong egos manifest relational conflict with insults, rudeness and self-absorption.

The Grombergs behave extravagantly because they are not overly pressed by the perils of the world outside. This creates many opportunities for witty insults delivered with relish, particularly between Kirk and Michael Douglas, who compete like stags in heat, both as characters and as actors. Sometimes cocky, sometimes mawkish, they seem deliciously unaware that Cameron, as Asher Gromberg, a laidback slab of simmering rascally charm, is slowly but surely sucking away the scenery. Not of course before getting into a dramatic scrape, as does every other male Gromberg.

Such high jinks are the necessary catalysts for the reconciliations we have been primed to expect. Would we feel cheated without them? In this case, yes, because energetic and seductive as are the Grombergs, they owe their breath to a script that has firm allegiances to entertainment and schmaltz, not depth. There's nothing new here, but the execution is by a confident machine, well appointed by three generations of talent. (MGM)