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“The Family Fang” is a comedic drama with teeth, but not enough bite.

This story about a family of performance artists hits a snag when it gets caught up in a ponderous mystery involving the disappearance of a pair of characters and can’t find a satisfactory way to solve it. But it’s a marked improvement over director Jason Bateman’s first film, the puerile “Bad Words,” and he shows a real know-how for character and the interlocking dynamics that make families tick.

Bateman and Nicole Kidman star as Baxter and Annie Fang, siblings who grew up with improv-artist parents staging guerrilla performances for unsuspecting bystanders. Those acts, which cast the kids in key roles, made the Fangs minor celebrities in the art world, but left them estranged as a family unit.

The family (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett play the parents) comes back together when Baxter is injured in an accident, but old wounds reopen when mom and dad attempt a new prank. When the parents turn up missing after a weekend trip, Baxter and Annie are left to decipher whether their disappearance is another act of “art.”

Walken is a natural as a whacked-out prankster, Kidman is strong as an actress adrift in middle age and Bateman does a low-simmer version of his disaffected cynic character. But “The Family Fang,” based on Kevin Wilson’s 2011 novel, hits a brick wall midway and can’t figure out a way around it.

Bateman knows his fractured family well, but “Fang” doesn’t give him enough to chew on. The characters are all scarred, but the film doesn’t leave a mark.

agraham@detroitnews.com

‘The Family Fang’

GRADE: C+

Rated R: for some language

Running time: 105 minutes

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