This Christmas, in addition to having the customary get-together with your dysfunctional family, director Wes Anderson invites you to spend some quality time with a capital-D-dysfunctional family, "The Royal Tenenbaums". There's Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman of "Heist"), who is a terrible father and has been separated (though never divorced) from his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston of "Ever After") for the past twenty-two years. Though their three children were gifted in their formative years, they have subsequently become absurdly-unbalanced in their adult lives.
Chas (Ben Stiller of "Zoolander"), who was buying real estate in his teens, now spends his days exceedingly concerned about the safety of his two sons, Ari (Grant Rosenmeyer) and Uzi (Jonah Meyerson), especially in light of the recent death of his wife. Adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow of "Bounce") was once a gifted playwright, but now finds herself trapped in a marriage to the much older Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray of "Charlie's Angels"), a psychologist who studies obscure mental disorders. Finally, Richie (Luke Wilson of "Legally Blonde") is a washed-up tennis star who has an unnatural (and as Royal notes, probably illegal) pining for his sister. Unfortunately for Richie, it seems that Margot has a proclivity to their former neighbor Eli Cash (Owen Wilson of "Behind Enemy Lines", who also co-wrote the script), who authors terrible Westerns when he isn't in a drug-induced stupor.
Events are set in motion when Royal catches word that Etheline plans on marrying her accountant of ten years, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover of "Lethal Weapon 4"), and the three Tenenbaum children find themselves moving back into the old house for various reasons. Determined to win his family back (though purely got selfish reasons), Royal tells them that he is dying of cancer and has only six weeks left to live. If you thought your family get-togethers were awkward, you ain't seen nothing yet...
"The Royal Tenenbaums" is Anderson's third feature film, and contains the same offbeat, deadpan, and sarcastic humor that his fans have come to know and love. A satire on those heartwarming tales of redemption and family reunion, "The Royal Tenenbaums" does a very good job of overturning every expectation you have in such a film. In fact, there are some genuine moments of pure absurdity that you cannot help but laugh out loud, such as a running gag about a hotel bellhop (Seymour Cassel of "Black & White") who impersonates a doctor as part of Royal's 'cancer ploy', Royal's misguided attempts at bonding with his grandsons (which include shoplifting or crossing when the light is red), or a television interview where Eli completely spaces out.
And though the material is funnier and better executed, "The Royal Tenenbaums" still suffers from the same indulgences that plagued Anderson's overrated previous outing "Rushmore": poor pacing, tedious comic timing, and gags that misfire more often than not. If you found "Rushmore" difficult to sit through due to scenes being dragged out longer than necessary or long after the joke ceased to be funny (if it was funny at all), expect more of the same in this new offering (though not to as great a degree, thankfully).
However, these shortfalls are somewhat compensated by the all-star cast. The most memorable turns would include Stiller, who puts his usual neurotic shtick to good use as the anxiety-stricken Chas, and Hackman, who seems to be having too much fun playing the scheming and insincere patriarch of the family. Paltrow does a credible job of playing against type as the dour Margot, while Owen Wilson brings his goofy charm to Margot's clueless would-be suitor, both of whom easily outshine the comparatively-staid characterizations of Murray, Glover, and Luke Wilson. Rounding out the cast are some great supporting bits by Anderson-veteran Kumar Pallana as Royal's ever-loyal servant Pagoda, and Stephen Lea Sheppard as a amnesiac/dyslexic/color-blind curiosity being studied by Raleigh.
If you are a fan of Anderson's work or are in search of something far off the beaten path, then there is little doubt you will love spending Christmas with "The Royal Tenenbaums". Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with or put off by the director's previous efforts may find this film to be a bit tedious at times and the humor strained... deficiencies that unfortunately eclipse the occasional moments of brilliance.