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Mark Wahlberg has displayed enough comic timing and action chops in previous work that it makes perfect sense that he would get one of those flicks that blend the world of espionage with suburban family tropes a la the excellent “True Lies” or even the underrated “Nobody.” There’s something about seeing an average family man become a highly-skilled assassin that appeals to viewers who wonder if they too could save their family if they were being hunted or have considered if the mysterious guy on their block might have a secret past. When done well, such as in the great James Cameron film, just out on 4K VOD by the way, it’s a fun little subgenre. “The Family Plan” is not when done well.
Wahlberg plays Dan Morgan, an ordinary guy who works at a car dealership and loves his family routines. They have tacos on Wednesdays (because Tuesday is too predictable) and he schedules sex with his wife Jessica (Michelle Monaghan) for Thursdays. He’s struggling a bit with his two teen kids. Nina (Zoe Colletti) wants to switch from Stanford University to Southern Iowa University to follow a boy; Kyle (Van Crosby) hides the fact that he’s still playing the shooter games that dad barred him from enjoying. There’s an unexpected third kid who’s just old enough to make kooky baby faces and sounds while the action unfolds. Over and over again.
The baby is a major part of the first big action sequence, a fight in a grocery store in which Dan has to fend off an assassin while the little one is in a carrier strapped to his chest. If this sounds ridiculous, you’re not wrong. It’s the first indication that “The Family Plan” is really going to go nowhere, relying on impossible situations for comedy instead of anything grounded or relatable. The charm of the best of this subgenre comes from familiarity working its way through both the action and the comedy. “The Family Plan” constantly lacks a foundation of recognizable human behavior and doesn’t replace its unbelievability with laughs or thrills.
It turns out that Dan used to be a hired assassin, working for a shadowy figure named McCaffrey (Ciaran Hinds). When his identity is blown, he calls an old comrade named Augie (Said Taghmaoui) to meet the Morgans in Vegas so they can start new lives. This leads to a road trip from the Morgans home in Buffalo to Vegas—yes, that sounds awful—wherein Dan can ostensibly tell Jessica the truth and probably solve his problems with his teens along the way. It’s also an excuse to watch grown adults sing along to “Ice, Ice Baby” in the car instead of writing actual jokes or characters. And for just SO MANY shots of the baby acting quirky or funny, which is indicative of how much the creators don’t trust their characters or their audience.
After fending off assassins all the way from New York to Nevada, but always in a way that everyone but the baby misses, the Morgans finally get to the City of Sin, and while I’m willing to suspend some disbelief to help a dumb comedy like this work, Dan leaving his kids, including the baby, to go out to a nice dinner with Jessica, is literally insane. Of course, the Morgans get separated, McCaffrey finds them, and everyone learns the truth.
Again, Mark Wahlberg could totally make something like this work. He’s got that wide-eyed puppy dog thing that makes him work as a conservative family man and yet he’s also believable as a former assassin. The always-underutilized Monaghan can do this kind of thing in her sleep and does even find a few beats to add depth to Jessica as a housewife who misses her spontaneous youth. (Speaking of wasted performers, Maggie Q does a lot with very little here as a new friend of Jessica’s with obvious ill intentions.) And props to Zoe Colletti, who’s charming in a relatively thankless daughter role.
No one on-screen is to blame for the failure of “The Family Plan.” They’re all fine, but they’re swimming upstream against a script that doesn’t give them enough to do and a director who fails at blending an average family and uncommon action into one vision. The movie ends on a few beats that are shockingly violent, including gunfire in a crowded Vegas casino and a death involving a dirty diaper that will haunt my dreams. It’s another indication that no one really figured out what movie to make here—a family comedy, spy thriller, or some blend of the two. So they chose none of the above.
On Apple TV+ now.