Film Spotlight: The Family Fang

Most parents would take their kids to the Grand Canyon or Disneyland. Not Caleb (Christopher Walken) and Camille (Maryann Plunkett) Fang. They'd rather use their children Baxter and Annie as pawns in one of their elaborate pranks. They think of themselves as performance artists and put their children in awkward situations for the sake of art.

That's the premise of The Family Fang, a dark comedy directed by actor Jason Bateman that opens on Friday at the Capitol and the Cedar Lee Theatre. The off-kilter film might stumble to the end, but it features some terrific acting performances, particularly on the part of Walken, who delivers as the slightly crazed, art-for-art's-sake-obsessed Caleb.

In the opening scene, young Baxter delivers a bank robbery note to a bank attendant, pulling a gun to make sure he gets all of the lollipops reserved for small children. In the process of a tussle between the security guard and the kid, the gun goes off and his sister Annie apparently gets shot. Or does she? Thing is, it's all just an elaborate Fang family prank, making one customer wonder aloud, "What the fuck is going on?"

Suffice it to say, Baxter and his sister Annie didn't have a typical childhood. As grownups, they're still struggling to come to terms with it, even though Baxter (Bateman) has become a successful actor, and Annie (Nicole Kidman) works in Hollywood as an actress.

When the two return home to live with their parents, they become suspicious after the old folks mysteriously disappear in an apparent carjacking. Even though the police find blood in the car, the kids suspect it's another one of their parents' pranks and set out to find evidence that they're still alive. Given that their parents didn't have any friends, finding someone in whom they would have confided isn't an easy task. In the process of talking to people from their childhood and sifting through their parents' belongings for clues, they're forced to confront their respective pasts, revisited in a series of flashbacks.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Davis Lindsay-Abaire adapted the film's screenplay from a Kevin Wilson novel and expertly condenses the book's material into this 105-minute movie. While the final "discovery" doesn't live up to the build-up and comes off as anticlimactic, the well-acted movie shows a real sense of craftsmanship and makes the most of its source material.

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