For Douglases, a big-screen reunion

The father-son duo of Kirk and Michael Douglas was so appealing in this year's Oscar show that you might have thought they'd been teaming up for ages.

In fact, they've never appeared in a movie together - until this week, when "It Runs in the Family" opens with no fewer than four Douglases on view. The others are Michael's son Cameron Douglas and Michael's mother, Diana Douglas, who was married to Kirk years ago.

They're all savvy actors, although Kirk and Michael predictably turn in the best performances. The story clearly means a lot to them, although the screenplay is too ragged around the edges to build the kind of emotional oomph it aims for.

Kirk plays Mitchell Gromberg, the patriarch of a wealthy New York family. He's retired from the high-powered law firm he founded years ago, but his son Alex (played by Michael) still works there when he isn't coping with one of the crises (a death in the family, a near-miss with an extramarital affair) that punctuate the story.

Subplots abound, centering on Alex's marital stress, difficulties with both of his offspring - the older one deals dope, the younger one seems distant and insecure - and the physical well-being of Mitchell, whose health problems are similar to the ones Kirk has wrestled with off-screen.

The best reason to see "It Runs in the Family" is the sight of unquenchable Kirk. He's one of the few major surviving stars from old-line Hollywood, and watching his vigorous work it's hard to believe this is his 86th movie.

The picture as a whole would work better if it didn't try to weave so many narrative threads into what's basically the story of a few loving people making the best of family life in a fast-moving modern city.

It would also have more resonance if the people on the screen were a little closer on the social scale to most of the people who'll be watching them. Their moneyed status cushions them from the economic and lifestyle consequences the rest of us would suffer if similar travails came into our lives. The screenplay throws in a story line about Alex helping a poverty-plagued neighborhood, but this wan attempt at social conscience rings hollow.

The talented Fred Schipisi directed the picture, adding small bits of filmmaking creativity to keep things lively. But the movie's best moments belong to Kirk and Michael.

Rated PG-13; contains vulgarity, sexuality, and drugs.

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