Let’s travel together.

Mark Wahlberg in a Family-First Actioner



Would it have killed him to quit sit-ups for a few months? Maybe load up on some Häagen-Dazs? Famously, Mark Wahlberg wakes in the wee hours for a 3:30 a.m. workout — perhaps he could have treated himself to a five o’clock lie-in? Whatever the case, the star has made no concessions to dadbod reality in “The Family Plan.” Playing milquetoast car salesman Dan, a married father of three whom nobody knows used to be a high-level government assassin, he strips off early in proceedings — on a night of abortive anniversary lovemaking with his weary wife — to reveal a torso as jacked as the day is long. Yet those enviable xylophone abs run counter to the slim comic premise of Simon Cellan Jones‘s formulaic shoot-’em-up: He’s a stone-cold killer, but everyone around him sees only a schlub.

That’s the exact word thrown at Dan by his wife Jessica (Michelle Monaghan), and their two sullen teenagers Nina (Zoe Colletti) and Kyle (Van Crosby), all of whom regard his dull job, cornball personality and comfy homebody routine with some degree of affectionate contempt. (Only their third child, perma-smiling infant Max, ever looks at him with something approaching wonder.) Wahlberg, however, doesn’t present as schlubby, bodily or otherwise: Even in the film’s early scenes, he carries himself with a bluffly macho always-preparedness. We’re supposed to be surprised when, ambushed by thugs in the middle of a mundane supermarket run, he suddenly springs into alpha ass-kicker mode, necessitating an awfully bloody cleanup on aisle three. Instead, we wonder why it took him so long. He’s an assassin, you say? Well, that figures.

If this not-so-split persona shrinks the farcical potential of “The Family Plan” — the premise of which really calls for the sturdy squareness of a Matt Damon — that’s typical of a film carrying the trappings of an action-comedy, but not the jokes. A workaday script by David Coggeshall (a writer more versed in franchise horror, including “Orphan: First Kill”) repeatedly underlines the mismatch between the wholesome white-bread family at its center and the hard-boiled genre proceedings in which it increasingly embroils them, but with no accompanying sense of giddy absurdism. They merely adapt to the action until they’re efficiently kicking ass too: The family that slays together stays together, and “The Family Plan” means that more earnestly and sentimentally than you might think.

The shameful B-movie backstory that has led Dan to beige family life in suburban Buffalo is sufficiently vague and unconsidered that he can explain it in a single rushed sentence to his slack-jawed kids: “Before I met your mom, I was a covert assassin, then I escaped that life and now they’ve found us.” The “they” in question are a typically dour, motiveless crew of shadowy operatives with non-specific vengeance on the brain, led by a grandhamming Ciarán Hinds: 18 years after Dan escaped their mercenary ranks and assumed his drab new identity, a social media mishap blows his cover, and they want him back, dead or alive. After the aforementioned supermarket bust-up, he hastily bundles his bewildered family into the car and heads on what they think is an impromptu vacation to Las Vegas.

Cue a cat-and-mouse road trip, with Dan casually dispatching heavies whenever his loved ones aren’t looking — so casually, in fact, that the film never gathers much tension as it putters toward the two-hour mark. A seasoned TV director, here a long way from his Daniel Craig-starring indie breakout “Some Voices,” Cellan Jones lends proceedings some impersonal gloss (a succession of climactic Vegas-set showdowns gleam with the requisite fluorescence) but no real rhythm or snap: Each setpiece is composed and paced much like the last, which only amplifies the sense of Dan as some kind of unflustered, largely unsympathetic man-machine, paused only by the script’s fleeting interpersonal conflicts.

Handed a role that mainly demands she react to her onscreen husband with alternating exasperation and exhilaration, a game Monaghan tries to give Jessica some flickers of inner life and desire: “I wish our lives were bigger,” she says early on with genuinely affecting, woebegone resignation. By the time she’s putting her kickboxing classes to use against a lithe villainess on a vertiginous hotel rooftop, one supposes she’s got her wish. The kids, too, gradually get the action-hero dreams they never knew they had fulfilled via their own meager subplots — including one that ultimately scolds parents for clamping down on first-person-shooter video games, which it seems are a pretty good training ground for real-life shootouts with dad. Turns out, he’s pretty tough! But seriously, kids, haven’t you seen his abs?


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