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A Family Affair

by Tom Tugend

April 24, 2003 | 8:00 pm

The cast of MGM's "It Runs In The Family." From top left, Michael Douglas, Bernadette Peters, Diana Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Cameron Douglas and Rory Culkin. Photo by MGM Studios

The cast of MGM's "It Runs In The Family." From top left, Michael Douglas, Bernadette Peters, Diana Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Cameron Douglas and Rory Culkin. Photo by MGM Studios

In his 86th year and in his 86th movie, Kirk Douglas has fulfilled a long-cherished dream by uniting his clan in the film, "It Runs in the Family."

The picture's Gromberg family, for whom the word "dysfunctional" was invented, consists of patriarch Alex (Kirk, naturally), son Mitchell (son Michael Douglas) and grandson Asher (grandson Cameron Douglas).

Rounding out the mishpachah (family) is Diana Douglas, Kirk's ex-wife and Michael's mother, who plays the patriarch's wife, Evelyn.

The Grombergs of Manhattan are over the top in every conceivable way. They are gratingly Jewish: Kirk sprinkles his comments with Yiddish vulgarisms, screams out a "Kaddish" (prayer for the dead) as he sets fire to a boat carrying the corpse of his senile brother and for good measure, there is a family seder from hell.

Adding to the New York stereotype, the Grombergs are obscenely rich, thanks to the patriarch's successful career as a corporate lawyer.

At the seder, when the youngest grandson, Eli (Rory Culkin), finds the afikomen, Kirk whips out a $1,000 bill and another greenback of the same denomination for 24-year-old Asher, who didn't find the afikomen.

There is almost constant intramural bickering between the crusty Gromberg patriarch and his son; between the son and his wife, Rebecca (Bernadette Peters); and between this couple and their children. Ultimately, the family rallies around when Asher is busted for growing and selling marijuana.

Relief comes occasionally, as in the warmly portrayed relationship between the Gromberg grandfather and his wife and the brotherly bonds between the two grandsons.

But most of the time, the film is as dysfunctional as the Gromberg family, running off in a dozen different directions and with a convoluted plot line that defies description.

Australian-born Fred Schepisi directed the film, with Michael Douglas doubling as producer.

"It Runs in the Family," released by MGM and Buena Vista International, opens Friday, April 25.

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