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With: Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Bernadette Peters, Michelle Monaghan, Cameron Douglas, Rory Culkin, Diana Douglas, Sarita Choudhury
Written by: Jesse Wigutow
Directed by: Fred Schepisi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for drug content, sexual material and language
Running Time: 109
Date: 04/25/2003

It Runs in the Family (2003)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ripped Genes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With something like 90 years of movie history between them, the Douglasboys -- father Kirk and son Michael -- finally team up for their firstmovie. They must have made an intimidating pair because all duringproduction no one had the courage to tell them that It Runs in theFamily stinks.

Not even one of our best directors, Fred Schepisi (Six Degrees of Separation, Last Orders), could add any grace or wit to the film.

Meant as a kind of troubled family "dramedy," It Runs in the Family telegraphs every weary step and leans heavily on the oldest plot chestnuts and some of the most outdated ideas imaginable. It's as if writer Jesse Wigutow had suddenly dropped down to our planet from Mars and tried to describe family dynamics based on a few TV sitcom reruns he had picked up in his spaceship.

The worst and most unbearable of all the characters is troubled son Asher (Cameron Douglas, Michael's real-life son), who acts like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and speaks with dialogue from Clueless -- and somehow lands a super-hottie girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan), when he really ought to be laughed out of town.

Kirk Douglas plays Mitchell, the grumpy patriarch of the Gromberg family. He screwed up his son Alex (Michael), and Alex is now in the process of screwing up his children Asher and young Eli (Rory Culkin). The saintly Evelyn (Diana Douglas, Kirk's real-life ex-wife) takes care of Mitchell and he takes her for granted, and the same goes for Alex's wife Rebecca (Bernadette Peters).

Alex, a high-priced lawyer, somehow finds time to volunteer in a soup kitchen and nearly has an affair with a sexy co-worker (Sarita Choudhury), getting him in trouble with his wife.

One character dies and another gets arrested, and everyone comes together for laughter and tears. There's even a fart joke. It's all so darn old hat that anyone who's ever watched television before can figure the rest out.

Director Schepisi manages a few of his trademark gorgeous widescreen shots -- set mostly in the Gromberg family loft -- but they alone can't inject any spontaneity or warmth or humor into the tired story and screenplay. It's shockingly low-quality work from a man whose worst film so far has been the pleasant Mr. Baseball.

The movie does earn points by sidestepping Kirk Douglas' real-life stroke; the filmmakers establish it as something that happened in the past. He's moved on and so has his family. After a while you get used to his speech patterns and you don't even notice.

It's too bad that even the father/son scenes didn't have any kind of tender quality to them. They're mostly made up of hackneyed dialogue or unbearably stupid sitcom moments (such as a mock Viking funeral for a friend).

The movie's best moment comes in the final scene, with both men spending the night on the couch. Mitchell laughs because Alex is "in the doghouse" with the wife again. It's a big deal to the younger man, but the older man knows from experience that this too, shall pass.

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