IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY is not just a bad movie, it’s a bad movie that not only muffs its attempt to rip off a good movie, ROCKET GIBRALTER, it also has the effrontery to try to make us feel guilty about hating it. I can understand why the Douglases, Kirk, son Michael, and grandson Cameron, might think that appearing together and playing father, son and grandson would be a good idea. And given that Kirk is getting on in years and not in the best of health after his stroke, I suppose that time was of the essence in throwing something together. Throw being the operative word here. This is high concept film and the problem with high concept films is that they tend to remain a concept rather than a film. Scenarios are thought up, not out, and such niceties as dialogue and plot continuity are details that can be left to the last minute or, as in this case, dispensed with altogether. Hence in this attempt at warm and fuzzy family drama, we have the scene where father and son finally have it out, the scene where wife Bernadette Peters tells Michael that he’s working too much, the scene where grandpa Kirk gives some homespun advice to the grandson, ad infinitum and ad nauseum.
What we have here is a Douglas family home movie, full of what I’m sure are inside jokes and family references that warm the collective hearts of the Douglas clan and to which the rest of us are not privy. I’m sure that they think that this is just dandy. They’re wrong. Bottom line, they had no right to inflict this underwritten, lackluster, stale, forced and astonishingly unfocused bit of piffle on us. Bland doesn’t even scratch the surface of this mess that makes schmaltz look like Strindberg by comparison.
The story meanders aimlessly on and on and on about how Grandpa and Dad worked too much and missed out on their kids childhoods. Meanwhile son Cameron is trying to find his way while the other son, played with a refreshing break from the Douglas gene pool by Rory Culkin, is there for window dressing and an opportunity for exposition. One can hardly blame him for maintaining a palpable detachment for what is going on around him, both the character and Culkin himself, as though he was just trying to get through this with as much dignity and professional credibility as possible. Not unlike Peters. At one point, she actually seems to be breaking into song, perhaps in a puckish and/or desperate attempt to see if anyone was still paying attention, say, director Fred Schepisi, for whom we can only feel pity at being mixed up in this nightmare. Its a long way from LAST ORDERS and CRY IN THE DARK to a vanity project on this scale, particularly when its someone elses vanity.
When the script runs out of steam, it kills off one of the characters. And then, when things bog down again, it kills off someone else. Unfortunately, neither time is it Cameron, the youngest of the Douglases and easily the least talented. His is a loathsome, smug screen presence with all the appeal of a papercut. He’s made all the more unbearable by the script having us believe that not only is he a chick magnet, but that he charms the ladies even while throwing up into a garbage can.
And about that guilt. Kirk is an icon of Hollywood. He was the cock of the walk strutting through films with a macho bravado that was watchable even in the worst of roles (the painfully miscast milquetoast in THE STRANGE LOVES OF MARTHA IVERS) and a joy in the best of them (CHAMPTION, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL). Heaven bless him, his stroke has robbed him of his athletic grace and has stopped him from being able to speak clearly anymore. It’s painful to watch him try to get the words out and difficult to understand them when he does. While I can appreciate, even cheer on moxie that won’t let anything keep him down, this is not the way I wanted to remember him. And to hate this film and how he appears is somehow is to discredit that moxie. Better to have cut his role down and let him use his eyes, which retain that old spark with more than a touch of mischief about them, than to let him fade away like this.