Here we have yet another “new movie” about the dark past of a family man coming back to haunt him, but we have already seen it many times before, right? Apple TV’s The Family Plan, starring Mark Wahlberg as the lead, falls into that category of movies, and it pretty much goes exactly as you would expect. Not a single thing in this movie looks like anything original or innovative, which is not surprising.
Wahlberg plays family man Dan, who’s a mild-mannered car salesman in Buffalo. He is great at his job and loved by all his co-workers, but he has the habit of slipping away whenever a casual picture gets clicked. His wife, Jessica, is a physical therapist at a local gym. The seemingly normal-looking, loving couple has three kids—two angsty teenagers and a toddler—adhering to the staple American family film formula. Nina, the daughter, is a journalism enthusiast who has deviated from the usual path of pursuing it because journalism, as we all know, happens to be dead. Then we have Kyle, the gamer teenager who would rather live in the virtual world of murder and mayhem than make actual friends.
Everything is okay except one huge secret: Dan used to be a fierce assassin who used to work for the government. But he got tired of that life, especially the immoral aspect of it where the man had to kill people like a robot whose only purpose was to serve its master. So he took on a new identity and left that life of chaos. And of course, he had to be stupid enough to not let Jessica know about his past; another movie trope that can be seen in these particular movie men. They have this tendency to think that women can’t handle the truth, and this way, their families remain safe. While Dan appears to be at peace with his very rooted family life, Jessica is understandably bored of it and seeks some sort of thrill. She loves him nonetheless, but she wouldn’t mind a few rollercoaster rides from time to time. The narrative doesn’t take much time to kick off, as very early on, Dan is attacked by a random goon at a local shopping mall. We get a scene where a knife pierces through a packet of diapers (that Dan is buying with his newborn in his arm), which implies that Dan’s blissful family life is under attack. So the man does exactly what anyone would do in a situation like this. He hurries back home, packs a bag filled with hard cash and new identities for everyone in the family, and picks up his angsty teenagers, followed by Jessica from her work. He tells his wife that they’re going on a surprise vacation, and she is absolutely delighted. From there on, it’s a cat-and-mouse game where Dan tries to escape (and then face) his past while hiding everything from his family.
Now here is the thing: I don’t mind watching generic movies. If made well, these movies can actually be a lot of fun. And there are times when you are just looking to pass some hours by investing in a story that you will eventually forget, but that doesn’t matter. A movie like The Family Plan is made with exactly this purpose. The sole agenda is garnering numbers for the OTT platform it belongs to, which is perfectly alright. But what these movies need to have is a particular selling point. For example, even with pretty basic stories, the John Wick franchise has managed to achieve astounding success thanks to its innovative, out-of-the-box action. I’m bringing up John Wick because it is also about a man who is trying to run from his past as an assassin. Bob Odenkirk’s Nobody, based on similar ideas, relies on Odenkirk’s charm as well as beautifully choreographed action set pieces to bring the house down. Odenkirk even had an unsuspecting family in this one. The biggest problem with The Family Plan is that the action seems quite bland here. It has all the gloss and production value, and you do get that a lot of money has been splurged, but what you see on screen is not particularly exciting. And that’s where the movie falters, instead of soaring high.
Wahlberg is still a bankable star. He has been there for decades, and he has proved his worth in both the acting and comedy genres. Although it is disheartening to see how Wahlberg has moved to these generic movies, especially when you think about the fact that the same man has been part of Martin Scorcese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed, and before that, he had a pretty wild nineties thanks to movies like Boogie Nights and Fear, where he used to have roles like aspiring adult movie star and obsessive young man with dark tendencies. Don’t get me wrong here; it is understandable that Wahlberg would want to prolong his career with safer choices, but following in the footsteps of Nicholas Cage might serve him better. Not much can be said about his performance in The Family Plan. He does his comedy well, and he is quite a natural when it comes to action. On the other hand, Michelle Monaghan, who plays Jessica, is pretty much underused here, as the director didn’t give her much to do. Monaghan is a pretty skilled actress, and it is sad to see her playing a stock character. The teen actors do a job that is adequate enough. Maggie Q has an interesting part, while Irish actor Ciaran Hinds (of Game of Thrones fame) is wasted as the main villain, aka Dan’s former boss, who is out to get him. At the end of the day, The Family Plan stands as an action-comedy that is mediocre at best. You wouldn’t mind watching it if you have nothing better to do and have a thing for the genre; that’s about it.