Jason Bateman follows up his strong directorial debut, Bad Words, with The Family Fang, a loopy tale about a quirky, dysfunctional family that never really finds its way.
The film gets off to a good start, with Bateman playing Baxter Fang, a down-and-out writer trying to put together his next novel but taking odd writing jobs in the meantime. He winds up doing a feature on potato guns, eventually getting shot in the head by one.
Enter Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman), his actress sister, who used to be an indie queen but has reached that stage in her career where taking off her clothes is mandatory. She comes home to assist Baxter, which gets them to ruminating on their childhoods with their crazy parents.
Their parents, Caleb and Camille (played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett as older people) 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 famous 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 sort of restriction on the weirdo actor. When Walken is off screen, the movie has a whimsical, funny vibe to it. When Walken is on, despite an okay performance, the film feels phony.
Bateman looks to be an interesting director, but his subject matter doesn’t suit his style this time out. The Family Fang feels uneven, but Bateman and Kidman are good together, and it isn’t a complete waste of time.
(Available for digital download and rental on iTunes, Amazon.com and On Demand during its limited theatrical release. Available on DVD July 7).