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It Runs in the Family

Starring Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Cameron Douglas, Diana Douglas and Rory Culkin; Bernadette Peters
Screenplay by Jesse Wigutow
Directed by Fred Schepisi

IN SHORT: A first-time pairing of two film icons that delivers even more than a historical moment. [Rated PG-13 for Drug Content, Sexual Material and Language. 109 minutes]

It's a lucky family in which father and son don't go through a number of years in conflict. The Gromberg family -- Alex (Michael Douglas) and his wife Rebecca (Bernadette Peters) sees it coming and going. They've got two sons to raise, the collegiate Asher (Cameron Douglas), and 11-years old Eli (Rory Culkin) and Alex' father Mitchell (Kirk Douglas) to deal with as well. Mitchell is a grumpy ol' codger who is recovering from a stroke, but his wife Evelyn Gromberg (Diana Douglas) loves him anyway. Your introduction to this family comes at a time of celebration in the Jewish calendar, of the Passover holiday which mandates a reunion of family at the traditional Seder. Watching Jesse Wigutow's script play out on the big screen was like looking in a mirror for this critic. The father son communication conflicts. The familial attempt to do as little as possible of Tradition and still hold on to the core of Jewish life. That being written, there is nothing here that will freeze out non Members of the Tribe. At its core, It Runs in the Family is all about how this family deals with situations that put it through emotional wringers.

The film is also, and remarkably, the first teaming of Kirk and Michael Douglas on screen. Michael's son Cameron, while professionally a DJ and musician, does a fine job in his role as the ne'er do well student Asher, more interested in selling dope and getting laid than with any long term career plans. His life gets its first shake when the College he attends notifies him that he'll have to serve a fifth year in order to graduate. It doesn't matter what your background is -- a fifth year of tuition is not something any kid wants to drop on the parental units. Asher may not care about anything besides music and dope; his father Alex , at least, has a family and another pre-teen son to look after in addition to charitable duties he carries out every day at a local soup kitchen. Therein lies the problem: co-worker Suzie (Sarita Choudhury) at the kitchen is not exactly reticent when it comes to demonstrating her attraction for the older, successful man. Alex fights the urge and fends off the daily attacks, ahem, but with a long term relationship that is just comfortable, it's just a matter of time before he could start to slip.

Alex loves Rebecca. He does the right thing. He still pays dearly for it in a script that ensures that every character has background and action to accomplish. Whether it is demonstrating the long held love between Mitchell and Evelyn or how the former teaches his grandson Eli to fight off the bullies that make his life miserable or how the dopehead Asher despite all the negatives, manages to woo "straight" coed Peg (Michelle Monaghan), every aspect of this family's life is examined and laid out for you. It's all done quickly and economically in the first half of the film, allowing for a pair of crises to hammer at the family unit in the second half. How it holds together and learns to deal with the mistakes of the past is what remains. There are some pacing problems in the latter half, as each character gets his or her turn to wrap up subplots, making It Runs in the Family feel a lot longer than its relatively compact running time. It's a minor complaint. The greater compliment should go to father/son Kirk and Michael, both icons to different generations of moviegoers. It's a sign of their talent and ability to merge into their character roles that we didn't sit and think "Hey, that's remarkable movie history taking place on the screen." Douglas and Douglas are subordinate to their characters and that's what the business is all about.

That being said, the pairing of father and son, and grandson, is good enough reason to grab up It Runs in the Family when it comes to DVD. That the script and performance are absolutely A-list level and of equal quality is a stronger reason to lay down the green stuff.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to It Runs in the Family, he would have paid . . .


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