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It Runs in the Family Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/28/2003

I can’t say I have spent much time wondering what a movie with Kirk and Michael Douglas in it together would be like, but it is an interesting thought.  According to the press surrounding this movie, it took them fifteen years to find the right script in which to collaborate.  I wonder if they actually liked the script for It Runs in the Family, or if they just gave up and decided to make this movie before Kirk died.  Based on the movie I saw, I would guess the latter.


Retired lawyer Mitchell Gromberg (Kirk Douglas) is the patriarch of the Gromberg family.  A year ago, he had a stroke, but aside from some speech problems, he’s okay.  That can’t be said for his brother, Stephen (Mark Hammer), who is institutionalized for dementia.  He picks Stephen up to join his wife, Evelyn (Diana Douglas), for Passover dinner with his adult lawyer son, Alex (Michael Douglas), Alex’s therapist wife, Rebecca (Bernadette Peters), and his two grandsons, 11-year-old Eli (Rory Culkin) and 21-year-old Asher (Cameron Douglas.)  They appear at first to be a happy family, but different factors would suggest otherwise.  Alex seems to be too busy between his firm and the local soup kitchen he volunteers for to pay attention to their marriage or his family.  Rebecca is concerned that this may be screwing up their kids.  Smart but shy Eli never seems to talk to them, and he is at the awkward age where he is just starting to like girls.  He is attracted to Abby Staley (Irene Gorovaia), a former runaway who has just returned to school and dresses like a goth chick.  Asher is a college student who is chronically irresponsible (he was supposed to pick his grandmother up from the doctor at the beginning of the movie, but got distracted.)  He skips his college classes, sells pot, and deejays at local clubs.  He too is attracted to a girl from one of his classes.  Her name is Peg Maloney (Michelle Monaghan), and she is turned off by his irresponsible nature at first, but begins to become charmed by his personality after awhile.  Unfortunately, it is more than possibly screwing up his kids that Alex is messing up.  In a moment of weakness, he almost has an affair with Suzie (Sarita Choudhury), a woman who volunteers at the soup kitchen with him.  He doesn’t go through with it, but the guilt builds in him.  As Alex debates on whether or not he should tell Rebecca about Suzie, Rebecca finds Suzie’s underwear in Alex’s coat pocket.  Before she can confront him with them, there is an unexpected death in the Gromberg family.  Without this person to act as an equalizer, the rest of the clan find it hard to learn how to communicate with each other.


This wasn’t a horrible movie, it was just bland.  It had every cliché that you would find in any dysfunctional family drama, without any of the quirkiness that you would find in some.  Even when they attempted to be quirky, such as a send-off Mitchell gives his brother near the end of the movie, it fell flat.  The acting was surprisingly bad all around.  Everyone seemed to be just reading lines, especially the elder Douglas.  Diana Douglas (Kirk’s ex-wife and Michael’s mother) was okay in her brief scenes.  Only Culkin stood out in his role.  He and his older brother Kieran are both eclipsing their more famous brother Macaulay by leaps and bounds in acting ability.

Some of you may have been excited by the long-awaited collaboration between Kirk and Michael, but I have a feeling you will be let down by It Runs in the Family.  Unless you like watching a movie with a tiresome story that you have already seen many times before, I would suggest skipping this one and hope that they get at least one more chance to work together before Kirk dies.  Maybe it will be more interesting to watch, though I wouldn’t count on Kirk’s acting abilities to get any better.


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