Being Hollywood royalty means you get to make movies like It Runs in the Family, where one of the leads is a stroke victim, another is an acting neophyte. But this is no mere vanity project. Michael Douglas and family aren't interested in a sentimental monument to their own success, and everyone carries his weight -- regardless of age, infirmity or experience level. In fact, the poster for It Runs in the Family -- three generations of Douglas men grinning on a fishing boat -- gives a decidedly false impression of simplistic hominess. Fred Schepisi's film tackles a host of less-than-cheery issues -- death, aging, infidelity, drugs, veteran care, liberal guilt, alienation -- all while remaining light enough to qualify as a comedy, one that benefits greatly from real-world family chemistry. In one scene that perfectly combines the movie's two selves, Mitchell Gromberg (Kirk Douglas) and his son Alex (Michael Douglas) attempt an impromptu (and illegal) Viking funeral for Mitchell's brother -- on a lake surrounded by summer homes, under cover of darkness. As Alex cracks wise about his father's hair-brained idea, it's a hilarious use of gallows humor, made authentic by the real father-son relationship informing it. Even better, the movie never panders to the elder Douglas, whose 1996 stroke severely impacted his speech. The audience quickly discovers it doesn't need to pity (or cringe at) Kirk Douglas, but rather, do what comes naturally: laugh at the veteran's comic instincts, still plenty sharp. Even Cameron Douglas proves capable as the college-aged stoner, making his casting more than gimmicky nepotism, while Bernadette Peters and Rory Culkin hold their own as the two non-Douglas Grombergs. It Runs in the Family refuses to wrap things up neatly, making for an affecting portrait of family members -- both real and fictitious -- who are grounded enough to recognize their own shortcomings.
by Derek Armstrong review