It Runs in the Family

on April 25, 2003 by Paul Clinton
Kirk Douglas' performance in the hit-and-miss “It Runs in the Family” would be a fitting bookend to a storied career. This may be the last we see of Douglas, who debuted in film playing Barbara Stanwyck's cuckolded husband in 1946's “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.” If this is so, he has made his finale a memorable one. Crippled manhood has been one of the actor's greatest themes, be it the battered boxer in “Champion,” the unstable Van Gogh in “Lust for Life” or the crucified gladiator in “Spartacus.”

In “Family,” Douglas' Mitchell Gromberg loses his bearings after finding his wife (Diana Douglas) dead in the bedroom. The tragic event sparks tensions with son Alex (Michael Douglas). Michael's real-life son Cameron Douglas joins the two in an “On Golden Pond” for the Douglas family.

Jesse Wigutow's mostly flaccid script provides a few memorable showdown scenes between father Kirk and son Michael. It also spends considerable time exploring the troubled relationships between each of the men and the women in their lives.

Michael's Alex jeopardizes his marriage to Bernadette Peters when he fools around with an exotic teaser at the soup kitchen where he volunteers time. Cameron hops in and out of bed with a co-ed as he aimlessly drifts through college life. Even the youngest boy (Rory Culkin), a moody pre-teen, gets his first kiss.

Wigutow and director Fred Schepisi set the story in a New York law firm, which bogs the movie down in liberal-minded indulgence. They include a half-baked subplot about Alex's charity legal work for immigrants.

The elder Douglas, despite obvious paralysis from his stroke, gamely works his way through scenes, revealing himself in flickers of emotion. He also shows he can still play comedy, especially with the high-point Viking sea-burial scene. Schepisi uses cutaways to show framed pictures around the house of the youthful, virile Douglas for contrast. Starring Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas and Bernadette Peters. Directed by Fred Schepisi. Written by Jesse Wigutow. Produced by Michael Douglas. An MGM release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for drug content, sexual material and language. Running time: 111 min

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