Even Sidney Lumet’s worst movies show a commendable seriousness about social issues, often supported by a solid cast. Family Business is one of Lumet’s very worst movies, but the actors are stellar. Sean Connery has a marvelous romp as an oft-indicted Irish reprobate gearing up for his last big caper, the theft of some experimental ”plasmids” from a top-secret lab. (The plasmids make it possible to grow crops without fertilizer; they’re worth a cool million.)
The plasmid scam is devised by Connery’s brainy grandson, Matthew Broderick (as ever, a slight but winsome performer). This makes Dustin Hoffman — Broderick’s dad and Connery’s son — so mad he twitches. Hoffman started his own non-felonious business years ago, and while he finds it excruciatingly dull, it has kept him out of trouble and financed his son’s college education. Now Connery has got Broderick in on his happy-go-unlucky life of crime. So Hoffman’s obliged to help them do the heist. A man has to look after his kid.
Given Hoffman’s dramatic precision and Connery’s overpowering charm, this is a promising setup. But Lumet muffs the caper. His pace plods — as if to stretch the skimpy plot — the dialogue is arch, and he wraps it all up with a political twist that manages to be both heavy-handed and inconclusive.
Despite its plentiful flaws, Family Business is still mildly entertaining on video, thanks almost entirely to Connery’s hearty performance. He has the ability to transcend and even partially redeem substandard material, and that’s a talent much needed here. Director Lumet is as agile as a dancer in concrete ski boots, but Connery, riding high on his career comeback, does not submit to gravity of any kind.