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Robert De Niro is 'Fine'

Published December 09. 2009 05:00PM

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but, boy, is it fun to try.

In "Everybody's Fine," Robert De Niro plays widower Frank Goode, planning a holiday reunion with his four children. When each cancels, the only thing on his "Bucket List" is a road trip to visit them.

Years of inhaling toxic fumes at a plant where he coated cable wire with PVC has given Frank respiratory problems requiring daily medication. He listens to his doctor and, instead of flying, takes the Greyhound and Amtrak.

His son is not at the New York City apartment. Kate Beckinsale owns her own high-powered Chicago advertising agency and lives in a designer home. But why is her son so antagonistic toward his father?

Sam Rockwell is a successful musician with a major Denver orchestra. Drew Barrymore is a Las Vegas dancer.

Each encounter with his grownup children is little more than a Kodak moment or a posting on a Facebook page. You can't download life. The wires Frank helped to manufacture become metaphor for a lack of communication. He's reminded that within the word "families" is the word "lies."

"Everybody's Fine" is the kind of movie legendary actors do late in their career: Paul Newman, "Nobody's Fool"; Jack Lemmon, "Grumpy Old Men"; and Henry Fonda, "On Golden Pond."

De Niro is no longer the "Raging Bull." And he's much less wired than Jack, the dad he plays in "Meet the Fockers." In "Everybody's Fine," he's more out to pasture. De Niro portrays Frank Goode in a plaid shirt and with a paunch. He busies himself vacuuming, mowing, pruning and power-washing at his immaculate mid-century modern ranch home.

De Niro is the reason to see "Everybody's Fine." With downcast pursed lips and head nodding in resignation, De Niro provides glimpses of a rueful interior monologue.

Frank Goode, is, as his name implies, a good man, with an E added at the end of his last name, no doubt for his excellence as a dad. He is a salt-of-the earth family man whose career goal was to be a good father.

Often when he looks at his adult sons and daughters, he sees them in his mind's eye when they were children. Director Kirk Jones ("Nanny McPhee," "Waking Ned") seamlessly blends in these flashbacks, handling these and most scenes in "Everybody's Fine" with, well, a fine touch. Jones wrote the screenplay based on a 1990 Italian film, "Stanno Tutti Bene," starring Marcello Mastroianni in the De Niro role.

Frank's children's voices chatter over the telephone lines beyond his ears. The conversations aren't meant for him. He might as well be talking to thin air.

You won't get away when seeing "Everybody's Fine" without shedding a tear or two, perhaps at your own failings. That's OK. If the result is that you reach out to a loved one, then everybody will be fine in your life, too.

"Everybody's Fine": MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for thematic elements and brief strong language; Genre; Adventure, Comedy, Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 40 min.; Distributed by Miramax Films.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Paul McCartney wrote and sings "(I Want To) Come Home" over the closing credits in "Everybody's Fine."

Box Office: Dec. 7: Forget Team Edward, or Team Jacob. This week, it's Team Sandra. "The Blind Side," starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw, pulled an improbable upset, moving to No. 1 after three weeks, with $20.4 million and $129.2 million, eclipsing "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" from it's two-week perch at No. 1, dropping it to No. 2 with $15.7 million and $255.6 million in its third week. "Blind Side" has surpassed "Rocky IV" as the highest-grossing sports drama.

"Brothers" opened at No. 3 with a disappointing $9.7 million.

4. "Disney's A Christmas Carol," $7.5 million, $115 million, five weeks; 5. "Old Dogs," $6.9 million, $33.9 million, two weeks; 6."Armored," $6.6 million, opening; 7. "2012," $6.6 million, $148.7 million, four weeks; 8. "Ninja Assassin," $5 million, $29.7 million, two weeks; 9. "Planet 51," $4.3 million, $33.9 million, three weeks; 10. "Everybody's Fine," $4 million, opening

"Transylmania" became the lowest-grossing opening ever for a movie opening at 1,000 sites or more, with $274,000, even worse than 1991's "Rich Girl."

"Box Office, Nov. 27: "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," $42.5 million, $230.6 million was No. 1 after two weeks; 2. "The Blind Side," $40.1 million, $100.2 million, two weeks; 3. "2012," $18 million; $138.7 million, three weeks; 4. "Old Dogs," $16.8 million, weekend; $24 million, since Nov. 25; 5. "Disney's A Christmas Carol," $16 million, $105.3 million, four weeks; 6. "Ninja Assassin," $13.1 million, weekend, $21 million, since Nov. 25; 7. "Planet 51," $10.2 million, $28.4 million, two weeks; 8. "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," $7 million, $32.4 million, four weeks; 9. "Fantastic Mr. Fox," $7 million, $10.1 million, 3 weeks; 10. "The Men Who Stare at Goats," $1.5 million, $30.5 million, four weeks.

Unreel: "The Princess and the Frog" is a hand-drawn animated Disney comedy about a young girl who lives in New Orleans during the Jazz Age.

Director Clint Eastwood is back with the Oscar-nominee bound "Invictus," a biography-drama starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandella and Matt Damon as a coach asked to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Peter Jackson directs "The Lovely Bones," a fantasy-horror film starring Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg about a young girl who watches over her family from the great beyond.

The "Super Troopers" and "Beer Fest" dudes, Kevin Heffernan and Michael Clarke Duncan, return with the comedy, "The Slammin' Salmon," about a restaurant owner who tries to repay a debt with a bet.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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