The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss/

THERE WAS A TIME when one could take it for granted that a Robert De Niro­movie would be no­table for — if noth­ing else — a good Robert De Niro per­for­mance.

Those were the days be­fore the rote gri­maces of “Flaw­less” and “Men of Honor,” be­fore the auto-pi­lot mug­ging of “Righ­teous Kill,” be­fore the phoned-in men­ace of “God­send” and “Hide and Seek.” (Can you be­lieve De Niro starred in two scary movies with kids in less than two years?)

So it’s some­thing of a sur­prise that the new “Ev­ery­body’s Fine” con­tains an hon­est, thought­ful, rel­a­tively un­man­nered De Niro per­for­mance. In fact, the movie — a fam­ily-rec­on­cil­i­a­tion drama that is more art­ful than its mis­lead­ing ho-ho-hol­i­day-hu­mor trailer would sug­gest — is car­ried by De Niro as surely as if it were part of the lonely wid­ower’s bag­gage he totes across the coun­try in writer-di­rec­tor Kirk Jones’ ser­vice­able if unin­spir­ing pro­duc­tion.

De Niro is Frank Goode, a bored re­tiree with “fi­bro­sis of the lungs” who de­cides to pay sur­prise vis­its on all four of his far-flung chil­dren af­ter each of them drops out of a planned fam­ily re­union at the old sub­ur­ban homestead.

In Chicago, daugh­ter Kate Beck­in­sale is a top ad ex­ec­u­tive. In Den­ver, son Sam Rockwell plays with the sym­phony or­ches­tra. Las Ve­gas daugh­ter Drew Bar­ry­more claims to be a suc­cess­ful dancer. The chil­dren har­bor se­crets, which strains their re­la­tion­ship with their once-de­mand­ing fa­ther, who doesn’t un­der­stand why his im­promptu ap­pear­ances are greeted with a rel­a­tive lack of en­thu­si­asm, and without the warmth the kids used to show their late mother.

In­spired by the 1990 Ital­ian film “Stanno Tutti Bene,” with Mar­cello Mas­troianni in the lead role, “Ev­ery­body’s Fine” is most in­ter­est­ing at its sim­plest, as when it de­picts Frank’s awk­ward in­ter­ac­tions with his chil­dren, or his pride in the phone lines he sees ev­ery­where he goes, which he pro­tected from the el­e­ments in his old job in a PVC fac­tory. (Th­ese wires prove handy when Jones wants us to hear what the kids are talk­ing about with each other, but doesn’t want his cam­era to leave De Niro too far be­hind. In­stead of cut­ting back and forth be­tween char­ac­ters, in typ­i­cal movie phone-call fash­ion, Jones sim­ply in­serts shots of the tele­phone poles and lines out­side Frank’s train car or ho­tel room, and adds voiceover con­ver­sa­tion.)

Nicely con­structed and beau­ti­fully shot (Jones has a good eye for com­po­si­tions), the movie is let down by its sen­ti­men­tal fi­nal act, which does with Frank what movies al­ways do to old peo­ple: sends him to the hospi­tal. Still, any par­ents and grown chil­dren who pick “Ev­ery­body’s Fine” for fam­ily hol­i­day view­ing are likely to leave the the­ater feel­ing good about their choice, if slightly guilty that they no more want a sur­prise visit from their rel­a­tives than do Beck­in­sale, Rockwell or Bar­ry­more.

Ab­bot Genser/Mi­ra­max

Wid­ower Robert De Niro pays a sur­prise call on daugh­ter Drew Bar­ry­more and her two sib­lings in “Ev­ery­body’s Fine.”

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