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Entertainment News

Douglas clan's Family' keeps viewers at arm's length

04/25/03

Clint O'Connor
Plain Dealer Reporter

It's not easy finding parts in a movie for both your father and your mother, let alone your son.

But Michael Douglas has enough star power to pull it off. Besides, he needs a lot of family around him in the new drama-comedy "It Runs in the Family," which he also produced.

Douglas plays son to his father, screen legend Kirk Douglas, and mother, veteran actress Diana Douglas, while playing father to his son, newcomer Cameron Douglas. (It is the first time Michael and Kirk have acted in a film together.)

In real life, Diana is Michael's mother, but she has been divorced from Kirk for 50 years. Cameron is Michael's son from his first marriage. He's not to be confused with Dylan, Michael's son from his current power marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones. And, right on cue, Zeta-Jones managed to deliver a daughter, Carys, earlier this week, just as the film is hitting theaters. The Douglas clan continues to grow.

In pretend life, the Douglases play the Grombergs of New York. Like many other American families, they suffer from a lack of communication skills.

Michael plays Alex, a hot-shot lawyer at his retired father's firm. Kirk is Mitchell, the patriarch slowed by a stroke. (His real-life stroke left him with impaired speech seven years ago). Diana is Evelyn, the graceful mother struggling with her own health problems.

Alex's strained relationship with his father is mirrored by his problems with his wife Rebecca (Bernadette Peters) and distant relationships with his own sons, Asher (Cameron) and Eli (Rory Culkin). Asher, a stoner flunking college, chases girls. Eli, 11, is just discovering girls.

Although nothing especially dramatic or hilarious erupts, "It Runs in the Family" is a nice, sweet, grown-up movie, even though the themes delve into death and drug dealing.

It comes up short at times, because the filmmakers keep a safe distance between family events and any real passion. We are at least a pane of glass removed from the Grombergs, never really allowed to connect with their emotions. Surprisingly, the fine Peters and Michael Douglas come across as the weakest links. They seem oddly detached and about half a beat behind in underwritten roles.

It is Kirk Douglas who manages to give the Grombergs some heart and soul. There's always the danger in movies that the designated crusty old guy will become the dreaded curmudgeon cliche. There are definitely those moments, unfortunately. But once you adjust to his speech problems, Kirk manages to deliver some memorable moments.

He's 86, and this is his 85th film. I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

coconnor@plaind.com, 216-999-4456


© 2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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