THE STORY – When enemies from his past track him down, former elite government assassin Dan packs his wife, teen daughter, teen son, and 10-month-old baby into their minivan and takes off on an impromptu cross-country road trip to Las Vegas.
THE CAST – Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, Zoe Colletti, Van Crosby, Saïd Taghmaoui, Maggie Q & Ciarán Hinds
THE TEAM – Simon Cellan Jones (Director) & David Coggeshall (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 119 Minutes
Imagine if “A History of Violence” were a comedy, and Viggo Mortensen’s family was more or less totally on board with the fact that he turns out to have been a cold-blooded killer in a past life. That’s basically “The Family Plan” in a nutshell. It’s predictable, blandly directed, and morally questionable, but it manages to be just entertaining enough by the end to make it worth a watch.
Dan Morgan (Mark Wahlberg) is a risk-averse suburban dad who spends his days at a used car dealership. That Dan has the sculpted physique of Mark Wahlberg and is unusually focused on avoiding any sort of social media presence is the only indication that there is more beneath the surface that what is initially presented. Dan used to be an elite assassin but he left that life behind to become a father. However, when enemies from his past locate him, he must take his family on the run. Of course, his family has no idea who their mild-mannered dad really is. As a result, Dan cloaks his escape from trained killers as a family road trip to Vegas, where every stop is an opportunity for both sightseeing and battling those who wish to do him harm.
The concept of the killer turned easygoing dad has been done before multiple times, ranging from the previously mentioned bleak “A History of Violence” to the darkly comedic “Nobody.” What’s notable about “The Family Plan” is that it takes the idea and presents it as part of an overtly hilarious film marketed for families. As a result, everything remains light-hearted even as the bodies begin to pile up. This is particularly notable because in these sorts of films, usually, the protagonist is haunted by the fact that he used to kill people and returns to his world of violence begrudgingly. As “The Family Plan” unfolds, it becomes clear Dan doesn’t really mind he used to kill people. As one character points out, “This is the happiest you’ve been in years,” which the audience knows is true because Dan is back to doing what he’s best at…murdering people. He left that world behind to become a father, but the plot suggests that if he could be a dad and kill people, he would be perfectly okay with that life decision. As his family gets in on the carnage throughout the film, it seems they are also fine with it. The film wants you to feel that Dan is morally good and likable. It has no interest in interrogating the fact that he is objectively pretty content with committing mass murder, as long as he does it for reasons which in the film’s mind are justifiable.
“The Family Plan” is, of course, a comedy, not a message movie. But there is something uncomfortable about the casual, almost gleeful way the film approaches violence, especially when it feels somewhat reactionary across the board. Dan’s daughter, Nina (Zoe Colletti), is portrayed as a lost soul because she has become deeply engaged in Marxist ideology. It is meant to be a positive that she rejects her political leanings over the course of the film, an arc that culminates in her using her father’s torture techniques on her pseudo-Marxist ex-boyfriend.
Beyond some of the questionable ethics of the film, the humor is inconsistent throughout. At a two-hour runtime, the film feels far too sluggish throug its first half. Until Dan and his family arrive in Vegas, the road trip sequences feel increasingly repetitive and unengaging. For the first hour and fifteen minutes, the entire film has one conceit: Dan needs to kill people without his family noticing or realizing they aren’t on vacation. What this means is variations on the same joke of Dan shooting or stabbing or hitting someone with his car with cutaways to his family not noticing because of some distraction. It’s funny enough a few times, but the same schtick gets tired with time. The script is also predictable as most of the film’s third-act surprises are telegraphed a mile away.
Moreover, for a movie dedicated to its fight scenes and action sequences, most of its action is not interestingly shot or choreographed. Even worse, much of the action is hindered by excessive editing. As a result, the fight scenes evoke memories of the “Taken” sequels more than something like “Nobody.”
However, “The Family Plan” finds a second wind when Dan arrives in Vegas. Cinematographer Michael Burgess (“Malignant“) takes advantage of Vegas’s extensive neon lighting and swanky hotel interiors to lend the film’s third act a Michael Mann-esque aesthetic. In these last 45 minutes, Dan’s wife, Jessica (Michelle Monaghan), gets to take center stage, and in many ways, she steals the show, giving the film some of its biggest laughs as she gets in on the violence herself. The Vegas-set action is an exception to the bland work on display throughout the first hour as the final shootout in the Poseidon Hotel is well put together and entertaining to watch.
Overall, “The Family Plan” is entertaining enough, especially in its final 45 minutes. It is utterly forgettable and is probably the most overtly “ra ra violence is good” big-budget Hollywood movie since 2010’s “The A-Team,” which had Liam Neeson quote Gandhi to convince a character that Gandhi does, in fact, support killing people. Despite this, it manages to be an engaging enough way to kill two hours.