At this point in his strange, erratic career Robert De Niro seems to say yes to almost anything he's offered, as though he has no plan in place. Maybe he just likes to work, maybe he has no idea what will stick and what won't, maybe his acclaimed role in Silver Linings Playbook felt like just another part to him, maybe the scripts seem better in the reading stage. Whatever the reason, this is the man's follow-up role to the one he took on in the dumb ensemble comedy The Big Wedding and the dumberer Travolta-battling Killing Season. It may have helped that Martin Scorsese is a producer here, or that it's another mob-themed comedy, the sort of thing the actor can do while taking a nap. But he's been down this road so many times now it's a wonder he isn't hiring himself out for lucrative guest spots doing stand-up for rich children at Goodfellas-themed Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties.
In any case, here he is again as a mafia boss under Federal protection, hiding out in Normandy, France, with his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, unpacking all the steely knives she keeps in her Scarface luggage) and children (Dianna Agron, John D'Leo). They don't mix well with the locals, reacting with slapstick aggression to every social obstacle. Pfeiffer blows up a grocery store when she's treated rudely, Agron beats handsy, sexed-up teen boys senseless, D'Leo acts like a mafia "fixer" in training. What did France do to deserve this? Apparently the same thing it did to warrant being attacked in the first G.I. Joe movie: it was France.
It's funny, but it's also well-worn. Even the visceral thrill of seeing Agron step outside her Glee persona and commit acts of extreme, La Femme Nikita-style comedy-violence with whatever weapon she has handy has been done before by director Luc Besson, a man who never met a girl with a gun he didn't want to turn into a a badass fetish object). De Niro nearly sparks to life as the third act rolls around, but as the family's main protector and De Niro foil, Tommy Lee Jones sleepwalks through a role he seems to have ad-libbed on the spot. This is no country for bored men.
Set up as something akin to a family of ninja warriors, simply hanging out until it's time to break some bones, it's inevitable that there'll be a showdown with the vengeance-minded American mobsters who find their way to Normandy. And there is, with some amusing, throwaway references to earlier De Niro roles scrambled into to mix, just like there were in earlier De Niro mob-themed comedies.
And yet, somehow, none of this feels endlessly irritating. It knows it lives in a hardened rut, that it's a slack wallow in the familiar, but it's got a laid-back approach, an awareness of its own place in the world of goof-off movies, and the one time it pretends to be something it's not is in the service of a film-lover's joke I won't spoil here. Sometimes unoriginal material, handled efficiently, avoids scorn and becomes a sort of comfort. We've seen it before and we'd like to see it again. Just, you know, without actually seeing it again. Maybe these guys have a master plan, after all.