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Case Number 03618: Small Claims Court

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It Runs In The Family

MGM // 2003 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 22nd, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

Blood is thicker than water.

The Case

Alex Gromberg (Michael Douglas, The In-Laws) is a successful New York layer who seems to have constructed the perfect life for him self: he lives in a fine apartment flat with his attractive wife, Rebecca (Bernadette Peters, The Jerk), has two healthy sons, and a job at the local soup kitchen as a volunteer. His father, Mitchell Gromberg (Kirk Douglas, Greedy), and mother (Kirk's real life ex-wife Diana Douglas) are also in the picture, two vivacious elders who have an enormous appetite for life. But things are not always as they seem. Alex is soon nearly caught in an extramarital affair, forcing him to rethink his relationship with his wife. His son oldest son, Asher (newcomer/Michael's son Cameron Douglas), is caught up in drugs while his youngest son, Eli (Rory Culkin, whose family is equally as weird), seems distant and drawn. Even Alex and his father, a victim of a debilitating stroke, are at odds. When tragedy strikes Alex's family, he quickly realizes what's important in life and makes a desperate attempt at bringing his family back together, one piece at a time.

If you can believe it, It Runs in the Family was the first time Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas had worked together in a film. Though both men have well over a hundred movies combined, Douglas fans finally got their wish: not one but two generations on the same screen. Unfortunately, there were only about 34 Douglas fans that came out in support of It Runs in the Family; the film failed to generate any interest upon its theatrical release. I'm a bit surprised that It Runs in the Family was even released to multiplexes; here is a movie that plays like an ABC "Movie of the Week" with high powered stars. When the Douglas clan was reading through this screenplay, I suspect the reason they decided to do it was because it gave them all a chance to work together. Certainly it wasn't for the characterization or plot—everything here feels as if it's been cookie cut or lifted from far better dramas and comedies. Solidly in place are various stock characters. The overworked husband. The cantankerous grandfather. The loving but determined grandmother. The troubled son. Yes, they're all here not because they're interesting but because they're needed to move the story forward. Both Michael and Kirk Douglas are fine in their roles as father and son (Kirk especially deserves kudos for bravely acting in the face of a devastating stroke). Yet too often I felt as they we weren't seeing any true emotion behind their performances—certainly with the lives they've led the father and son duo could have interacted on a deeper acting level. Diana Douglas, obviously a good sport to play opposite her ex-hubby, and Cameron Douglas are each given just enough character traits to make them worth investing in, but not enough for a payoff—Cameron Douglas is the most fascinating character in the whole film but he's only seen on a surface level. Frustratingly, every character quickly shuffles into and out of a major/minor crisis in their lives, weather it be the death of a family member, a near miss affair, a drug problem, or some other major crossroads. My gripe with the movie is that it never slowed down enough to focus on one character's troubles—too many fingers in the pie…well, you know the rest. Complaints aside (which are many, I know), it was fun to see the so many from the Douglas family working on screen together (even though Bernadette Peters sticks out like a sore thumb). A few laughs can be found, along with a nicely grumpy performance by Kirk. The bad news: Catherine Zeta Jones is nowhere to be found, a wise career move on her part.

It Runs in the Family is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. MGM's work on this transfer is very good, if not great. Most of the time this is a very crisp, solid transfer that sports dark black levels and bright colors. However, there are a few instances where edge enhancement rears its ugly head, more often than desired. Otherwise, the image is free of any grain or dirt. While this picture may not be on the same level as Lord of the Rings, it gets the job done. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. There isn't much to say about this sound mix. While there are a few surround sounds to be found in this mix, it's a fairly mild soundtrack that is very front heavy. Most prominently displayed is composer Paul Grabowsky's music score. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles, as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mixes in French and Spanish.

It Runs in the Family was a flop in theaters but that hasn't stopped MGM from including a fair number of extra features on this disc. Starting off the supplemental materials is a commentary track by director Fred Schepisi, a mildly interesting discussion about the making of the film, what it was like working on the set with the Douglas clan, and other tidbits about the production. Next up is "Family Makes you Nuts: The Making of 'It Runs in the Family,'" which runs about a half-hour. This is a surprisingly affecting look at the making of the film. This feature includes interviews with Michael, Diana, Cameron, and Kirk Douglas, Bernadette Peters, writer Jessie Wigutow, and director Fred Schepisi, as well as clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage. This documentary feels very…well, family oriented. "All That Grit: Kirk Douglas and the Movies" is a short recollection by the actors of the film on Kirk Douglas, along with narration and photos of Kirk in his younger days. Finally, there are three deleted scenes (with an alternate opening), a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, a theatrical trailer, and trailers for other MGM titles.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 72

Perp Profile

Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• French
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary Track by Director Fred Schepisi
• Three Deleted Scenes
• "Family Makes You Nuts" Documentary
• "All That Grit: Kirk Douglas and the Movies" Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
• Bonus Trailers


• IMDb
• Official Site

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