Jason Bateman follows up his strong directorial debut, Bad Words, with The Family Fang, a loopy tale about a quirky, dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, the movie never really finds its way.
The film gets off to a good start as Bateman plays Baxter Fang, a down-and-out writer trying to put together his next novel who is taking odd writing jobs in the meantime. He winds up doing a feature on potato guns, and eventually gets shot in the head by one.
Enter Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman), his actress sister; she used to be an indie-film queen, but she’s reached that stage in her career where taking off her clothes is mandatory. She comes home to assist Baxter, which gets them ruminating on their childhoods.
Their parents, Caleb and Camille (played in their older versions by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), were infamous pranksters. They would stage bank robberies and other public occurrences, film them—and call it art. This resulted in a rather screwy childhood for Annie and Baxter, with parents who got famous by basically being horribly irresponsible.
Oddly enough, the film loses steam when Walken enters the picture. The premise involving his character feels a little too contrived, and it actually puts a strange restriction, of sorts, on the weirdo actor. When Walken is off-screen, the movie has a whimsical, funny vibe. When Walken is present, the film feels phony, even though his performance is OK.
Bateman has the potential to be an interesting director, but the subject matter doesn’t suit his style this time out. While The Family Fang feels uneven, Bateman and Kidman are good together, so it isn’t a complete waste of time.
The Family Fang is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com. It will be available on DVD July 5.