The Dysfunctional Douglas's
To put it simply "It Runs in the Family" leaves me with mixed, contradictory feelings, I liked it but I also didn't, the storyline was at times good but just as often bad and I could go on because for everything I liked I also found something I didn't. Of course there are two reasons why "It Runs in the Family" attracts people to watch and of course the first is having 3 generations of Douglas's along with Michael Douglas's mother, Kirk's first wife Diana Douglas all on screen together. And whilst some may say it's just a novelty each of them are part of the reason why at times "It Runs in the Family" works. The other reason is to see Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas on screen again having not only survived a Helicopter crash but a debilitating stroke and whilst the sharpness which Douglas once thrived on has understandably disappeared he still creates a great character.
"It Runs in the Family" is very much a movie of two halves with the first half being your basic dysfunctional family set up. We meet the various members of the Gromberg family with Alex being a workaholic dad who is constantly dealing with phone calls and not having enough time for his family. His father Mitchell is old fashioned and cantankerous whilst Alex's two sons have various issues from young Eli trying to not upset anyone whilst his older brother Asher is flunking college again, dealing drugs and enjoying the party life style. In typical fashion the entire family along with wives comes together for a family meal where the differences between the generations cause arguments. It's all quite typical with elements which can be found in pretty much any movie about dysfunctional families.
Ironically the first half of "It Runs in the Family" is the better half as the second half tries to create more drama as issues arise and secrets surface. So we have Alex's wife learning about his sort of an affair, Asher's drug dealing comes to the surface and there are deaths to contend with as well. Plus in very typical fashion we have the emotional interchange between Alex and Mitchell as Alex just wants for once his father to approve of what he has achieved rather than finding a way to wind him up. It is again all quite typical except in trying to create drama there are times where it is too manufactured, especially when it comes to an adhoc Viking burial. You could say that there are times it is trying to be dysfunctionally funny but it goes too far and becomes too false.
The thing is that whilst this story of the dysfunctional Gromberg's is both unoriginal and false it is entertaining and that is purely down to the delight of having not only 3 generations of Douglas's on screen together but also Diana Douglas as well. For some this could be seen as just a novelty but for me it adds to the authenticity of the family issues and you wonder how much of the Douglas's own family life comes through in their various characters. As such whilst you do wonder whether Michael did at one time strive for Kirk's approval you also get a sense of that deep love and respect. And whether it is true or not you do get a sense that whilst Kirk and Diana had long been divorced there was still a closeness between them. It just adds something extra to what with out the Douglas connection would have been just another ordain, in fact struggling dysfunctional family movie.
Now when it comes to the acting it has to be said that Michael whilst entertaining delivers what is quite a typical performance of the workaholic business man, there is a touch of comedy to this but you can see various characters he has played over the years combining in this one role. And in his first major role Cameron Douglas holds his own in the scenes he shares with his father and grandfather even though he does have a very underwritten character. But of course the real star of "It Runs in the Family" is Kirk Douglas who understandably delivers a very different performance than he did before the accident and stroke still delivers a very good performance. It is good because he gets across the character, the emotionally restrained element of Mitchell as he has to deal with growing old and the loss of those close to him. Yes Kirk is aided by some clever writing, a scene which sees him putting cushions next to him in bed is a simply beautiful as is the scene where he returns from his exercise and realises the chilled water isn't in the fridge, but it is the subtlety which Kirk delivers which brings these moments to life.
The thing is that whilst there is much to enjoy about "It Runs in the Family" there is just as much not to like and whilst watching Kirk Douglas act is marvellous it is also heartbreaking because you can't but remember him delivering those powerhouse performances. There are issues with other characters as well and the whole story about Eli's friend, 12 year old Abby Staley who ran away with an older boy feels too forced. It is a case that for everything which is appealing about "It Runs in the Family" there is something unappealing.
What this all boys down to is that "It Runs in the Family" is an ordinary and flawed dysfunctional movie which has as much wrong with it as is right. But it is entertaining and much of why it entertains comes down to having the various members of the Douglas family playing characters. And whilst it is heartbreaking to watch Kirk Douglas delivering a very different performance to what he was once known for there is no denying that even having been in an accident and suffering a stroke there is still something magical watching him act.