Los Angeles Times

'It Runs in the Family'

Michael and Kirk Douglas have taken more than 20 years to select a script that would enable them to act together on the screen. It was worth the wait.

Jesse Wigutow came up with a screenplay that is tailored expertly not only for father and son but also Michael's son Cameron and Michael's mother Diana Douglas, Kirk's first wife, who divorced Kirk amicably decades ago and has remained a close friend. Michael Douglas produced, with his brother Joel serving as associate producer.

"It Runs in the Family" is impressive for what it is and for what it is not. Its emotional tug has been well-earned by the Douglas family. On the surface, the film is a classic intergenerational story of the trouble American males typically have expressing emotion, but it's the subtext that counts. The Grombergs are a wealthy, highly successful family, and their story is how they cope with a series of upheavals, none of them melodramatic or even out of the ordinary, that lead them to reappraise their relationships with one another and discover something about themselves in the process. What's key is that each knows he or she has much to be grateful for in life and none indulges in self-pity or buck-passing.

Having found a script they liked, the Douglases then selected a strong, talented director in Fred Schepisi. He not only inspired the cast to give well-shaded, reflective portrayals but also made the film a work of honest, heartfelt sentiment.

Kirk Douglas' tough, hard-driving Mitchell has built a top Manhattan corporate law firm where his son Alex (Michael Douglas) carries on as a partner but has a yen for pro bono work. Mitchell and his elegant wife, Evelyn (Diana Douglas), live in a tasteful apartment with period décor. Alex and his psychologist wife, Rebecca (Bernadette Peters), live in a trendy loft with their 11-year-old son, Eli (Rory Culkin). Their older son, Asher (Cameron Douglas), a 21-year-old college student, has a small place of his own. Eli is self-contained to a degree that begins to worry his mother; Asher, who makes a faint stab at playwriting, is more into peddling marijuana than studying but has met a sharp, outspoken girl (Michelle Monaghan) who has an unexpected impact.

A string of crises causes the Grombergs pain but reveals they have plenty of the right stuff. Kirk Douglas, at 86 and in his 86th film, quietly shows us a man who, for all his gusto, is capable of accepting that he is mortal. Michael Douglas reveals a man in middle age in need of reassessing his priorities, repairing his marriage and reaching out to the sons he does not really know. Cameron Douglas plays a seemingly nonchalant slacker only to catch us by surprise when the film's big emotional moment is handed to him, and he comes through beautifully. For all the emphasis on grandfather-father-son bonding, the film allows Diana Douglas, Peters and Monaghan to emerge as very much their own, independent, forthright women.

"It Runs in the Family" is handsome without being slick and offers the pleasure of watching three generations of a premier Hollywood family and of recognizing that the Grombergs, for all their privilege, have much in common with other families.

'It Runs in the Family'

MPAA rating: PG-13, for drug content, sexual material and language

Times guidelines: Family entertainment appropriate for older children

Michael Douglas...Alex Gromberg

Kirk Douglas...Mitchell Gromberg

Bernadette Peters...Rebecca Gromberg

Rory Culkin...Eli Gromberg

Cameron Douglas...Asher Gromberg

Diana Douglas...Evelyn Gromberg

Michelle Monaghan...Peg Maloney

An MGM Pictures and Buena Vista International presentation of a Further Films production. Director Fred Schepisi. Producer Michael Douglas. Executive producers Schepisi and Kerry Orent. Screenplay Jesse Wigutow. Cinematographer Ian Baker. Editor Kate Williams. Music Paul Grabowsky. Costumes Ellen Mirojnick. Production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein. Art director George Allison. Set decorator Diane Lederman. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

In general release.

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