Wed, Dec 2, 2009 (5:35 p.m.)
Well, they finally did it: They completely emasculated Robert De Niro. Not even appearing in two movies each of the Meet the Parents and Analyze This/That franchises, nor playing a cross-dressing pirate in Stardust, could totally rob De Niro of his inherent danger or spark, but in Everybody’s Fine, the onetime ferocious actor is beaten down and meek, playing a doddering grandpa in what amounts to a feature-length greeting card.
From its bland, meaningless title on down, Everybody’s Fine (based on a 1990 Italian film) is sanitized and colorless, telling a schematic story with rigid single-mindedness and little room for creativity. De Niro’s Frank, a widower still adjusting eight months after the death of his wife, makes the uncharacteristic decision to visit all four of his grown children, scattered around the country, when they all cancel on plans for a family get-together. As he roams the U.S. in scenes that would make great ads for railway and bus travel but don’t much work as drama, each of his kids frantically lobs Frank off to the next, in the hopes of hiding one very big family secret.
Each of the three kids Frank visits (Kate Beckinsale as a Chicago ad exec; Sam Rockwell as a classical musician in Denver; Drew Barrymore as a Las Vegas casino employee) has a boring, crushingly obvious secret of their own, along with the equally pedestrian mystery of what’s happened to their fourth sibling. De Niro listlessly goes through the motions as Frank learns that his kids’ lives were never as perfect as they represented them, but in the end, well (spoiler alert!), everybody’s fine.
Writer-director Kirk Jones mined similarly dull, twee material for his 1998 debut Waking Ned Devine, which at least had quirky British townsfolk to offer as distractions. Everybody’s Fine is just a rote journey from one tidy little domestic dramedy to the next, made even more treacly by Frank’s tendency to imagine each kid as a literal child, like he’s just stepped into a life-insurance commercial. When you care enough to send the very best this holiday season, send your family to see a better movie.