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Everybody's Fine (PG-13)

In this film publicity image released by Miramax Film Corp., Robert De Niro, right, and Kate Beckinsale are shown in a scene from "Everybody's Fine." (AP Photo/Miramax Film Corp., Abbot Genser)
In this film publicity image released by Miramax Film Corp., Robert De Niro, right, and Kate Beckinsale are shown in a scene from "Everybody's Fine." (AP Photo/Miramax Film Corp., Abbot Genser)

Some films seem natural and effortless. Others, like Everybody’s Fine, must go through all sorts of gyrations and machinations to make any sense.

Based on a similarly-titled 1990 Italian drama starring Marcello Mastroianni, this borderline weeper from Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) stars Robert De Niro as Frank, a blue-collar retiree in upstate New York. A recent widower, Frank is looking forward to having his four children home for a reunion.

But one by one they cancel. Despite health problems, Frank decides to hit the road. He’ll pay surprise visits to his offspring.

His first stop doesn’t pan out. Artist son David is AWOL from his NYC apartment. Apparently he’s out of town.

In Chicago, daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale) runs an ad agency and is struggling with some unspecified marital crisis. There’s lots of tension in the household, especially between Amy’s husband and middle-school son.

In Denver, Frank discovers that son Robert (Sam Rockwell) isn’t an orchestral conductor after all. Rather, Robert is a somewhat sad underachiever content to bang away in the percussion section. In Las Vegas, daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore) is a dancer between gigs and minding a friend’s baby.

None of the kids seems particularly glad to see Frank, and they all make a point of sending him off after just one night of frosty hospitality.

Everybody’s Fine is a mystery of sorts. Occasionally we intercept telephone conversations among Amy, Robert and Rosie. The topic is the missing David, who seems to have gotten into some sort of dire trouble in Mexico. They all agree to keep their father in the dark. De Niro is, of course, among our best actors, but even he can’t precisely pin down Frank’s character.

In rewriting the original Italian screenplay Jones has wisely injected droll moments, which give the proceedings a more lived-in, less artificial atmosphere. And a scene of reconciliation effectively tugs at the heartstrings. But you can’t shake the feeling that Everybody’s Fine is based on a phony premise made tolerable only by the efforts of a strong cast.

Cast: Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell.

Director: Kirk Jones.

Screenwriter: Kirk Jones. Based on a screenplay by Massimo De Rita, Tonino Guerra, Giuseppe Tornatore.

Producers: Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Ted Klein, Glynis Murray, Gianni Nunnari.

A Miramax release. Running time: 95 minutes. Thematic elements, brief strong language. Playing at area theaters.

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