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It Runs in the Family

Poor Kirk Douglas — not only does the tough old bastard have to live out his remaining years sounding like he's just had his wisdom teeth pulled, but he's also in semi-retirement and unlikely to headline a film again, instead taking part in such lightweight projects as It Runs in the Family (2003), a modest little dramedy that has quite a bit more star-appeal than script. The story concerns three generations of the Gromberg clan — patriarch Mitchell "Pappy" Gromberg (Kirk Douglas) has left the family's corporate law practice after suffering a stroke, but he's still more than a handful for his dutiful wife Evelyn (Diana Douglas). Son Alex (Michael Douglas) is now a senior partner at the law firm, but his professional duties have created a distance between himself and his wife Rebecca (Bernadette Peters), as well as his two sons. Meanwhile, those boys have problems of their own — almost-adult Asher (Cameron Douglas) is failing college and lacks direction in life, while sixth-grader Eli (Rory Culkin) appears too socially withdrawn. Several small plots are then put into motion — Asher meets a girl he likes, but runs afoul of the law; Eli also meets a girl, but finds it difficult to communicate with his parents; Alex takes on a pro bono rent-strike case, but discovers that Rebecca believes he is having an affair; and Pappy finds himself entering his last "few good years" more unsure about his future than he's ever been. It Runs in the Family was a box-office dud on arrival, failing to earn more than $10 million domestically. But, while it may not have warranted stellar theatrical numbers, it's a movie that deserves a second chance on home video. In fact, had the title been released as a television "event" picture, it's likely it would have been well received, easily meeting Sunday-night viewing expectations. Both Michael and Kirk Douglas turn in fine leading performances, with the elder Douglas decidedly off his leash — reproving his son, offering wry advice to his grandsons, and even insisting his deceased brother be given an improvised Viking funeral. Michael Douglas plays the exasperated middle-aged man well, and he's particularly charming in his scenes with both Kirk Douglas and Bernadette Peters. It's the younger boys that present somewhat of a problem — as Asher, newcomer Cameron Douglas plays the stoned post-adolescent loser perfectly, which is great except that he doesn't make for much of a protagonist, while cherub-faced Rory Culkin is so tight-lipped that it's hard to understand what his dilemma actually is. And both boys are given implausible romantic interests. However, as their problems reflect back on their parents, the movie gains a much richer appeal, often capturing the hectic, bittersweet nature of growing up in a distant, and yet tightly knit, clan. And kudos to the women, who hold this movie together like the common bond of any household — the elegant Diana Douglas jousts well with ex-husband Kirk, while Bernadette Peters gets the best part of the entire piece as the mother/wife/daughter/caretaker who has set many of her own ambitions aside in order to look after her family and act as its most rational voice. MGM's DVD release of It Runs in the Family features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Features include a chummy "making-of" featurette (30 min.) and a retrospective on Kirk Douglas's Hollywood career (7 min.). Keep-case.

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