Producers: David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson Director: Simon Cellan Jones Screenplay: David Coggeshall Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, Ciarán Hinds, Zoe Colletti, Van Crosby, Maggie Q, Joyner Lucas, Kellen Boyle. Colby Burton, Felicia Pearson, Lateef Crowder dos Santos, Miles Doleac, Jonny Coyle, Saïd Taghmaoui, Iliana Norris and Vienna Norris Distributor: Apple+
James Cameron’s “True Lies” recently spawned a failed television series, and now it’s the obvious inspiration for a movie that’s no better. “The Family Plot” also suffers from commercial pandering: the second act is a virtual commercial for Las Vegas, and there’s a blatant shout-out to iPhones in the middle of the final credits crawl—none too subtle, Apple+.
Mark Wahlberg is the Schwarzenegger stand-in—Dan Morgan, a hugely personable Buffalo car salesman married to rehabilitation therapist Jessica (Michelle Monaghan). The Morgans have three kids, teens Nina (Zoe Colletti) and Kyle (Van Crosby) and infant Max (Iliana and Vienna Norris), and seem a fairly normal family. Dan and Jessica are clearly devoted to each other, though Dan has running battles ongoing with Nina and Kyle: she’s giving up on going to Stanford for a journalism program, prioritizing her relationship with older college guy Trevor (Colby Burton), and he’s ditching schoolwork because of his obsession with playing violent online video games under the moniker Kylboi.
When Dan and Jessica go to an amusement park with happy memories for a romantic evening, they’re photographed smooching by a rude jerk who posts the shot on social media despite Dan’s objections—the guy even dumps a drink on Dan’s head, and though obviously angry he doesn’t retaliate. That photo turns out to be disastrous, because it catches the eye of a group of assassins headed by ruthless meanie McCaffrey (Ciarán Hinds). They come after Dan, with one (Lateef Crowder dos Santos) attacking him in a supermarket even though he’s carrying Max. Big fight scene #1, which leaves the aisles in a shambles.
Why are they after Dan? It turns out that he was once a member of the gang and went AWOL after finding out that their targets weren’t always the bad guys he was told they were, and the missions weren’t really government-sanctioned. He’s never told his family about his past, and now hustles them into the family SUV for what he says is a surprise vacation in Las Vegas, despite their protestations. Naturally the gang will be on their tail.
What follows is a predictable mixture of comedy and action, with Dan fending off attacks as they arise in ways that will keep the family from discovering his secret, and connecting not only with his wife but his surly older kids as opportunities allow. He stops off, for instance, at the Iowa university where Trevor’s enrolled long enough to allow Nina to learn that he’s a cheating cad (and then teaching her a hold to leave him gasping in pain). And he takes time to challenge Kyle to a laser tag match which he wins, but praises the boy for his skill. Baby Max, by contrast, is treated merely as prop for reaction shots as he gleefully giggles watching his dad deal with the bad guys while his mother and older siblings are conveniently out of the picture.
When the family reaches Las Vegas, there’s some desultory business about the kids going off surreptitiously to a gamer convention while Dan and Jessica head for a romantic dinner where the truth finally comes out, before the movie turns into a pure action flick. Naturally McCaffrey and his crew show up to threaten Dan with the possibility of harm to his family, and there’s a long, tedious confrontation set in an abandoned casino, where all the Morgans, save Max, demonstrate their mettle in overcoming the gang. There are a couple of contrived surprises regarding McCaffrey’s connection with Dan and the motives of one of Jessica’s friends, a travel agent played by Maggie Q, but overall director Simon Callen Jones and his technical cohorts—in particular cinematographer Michael Burgess and editor Tim Porter—prove unable to invest the protracted sequence with enough flair or tension to make it anything but rote and dull. We’re left with the curious message that the family that slays together, stays together. On the other hand, Burgess, production designer Paul Kirby and costumer Carol Ramsey give the picture a glossily smooth look, and Kevin Matley contributes a score that tries to enliven even the feeblest comic and action scenes, though none too successfully.
Of the cast, little can be said but that they put on game faces as they tackle the less-than-inspired material. Wahlberg has got this sort of comedy-action routine down pat; he does the hangdog looks and embarrassed smiles easily while still handling the physical stuff efficiently, if without much magic. Monaghan is fairly winning as the frazzled wife, though she has to endure a long fight scene toward the close that exhausts us as much as her character. Colletti and Crosby are at best competent—neither has much charisma. Maggie Q brings some sheen and athletic prowess to her brief turn, but the most egregious misuse of talent lies in having Hinds do nothing but scowl and snarl as the chief villain who inevitably gets his just deserts, though his underlings fare no better (one of them, played by Jonny Coyle, is dispatched by having a dirty diaper thrown in his face).
The movie doesn’t inflict quite as bad a fate on viewers, but it’s an action comedy that overdoes the former and stints on the latter. It’s about as enticing as the cellphone offer the title is apparently alluding to.