The story involves a highly successful New York City family, each with its set of problems, and highlights the difficulties of the father-son relationship. Mitchell Gromberg is dealing with health problems resulting from a stroke. His son Alex works as a lawyer in the firm that his father founded, but is questioning the usefulness of his work and his place in the family. Alex's son, Asher, does not take college seriously and seems lost. The youngest son is 11 year old Eli, who is extremely intelligent, while being socially awkward and is entering a difficult pre-adolescent time.
Alex indulges in a thoughtless and careless brief romantic fling with Suzie at the soup kitchen they volunteer at, and his psychologist wife Rebecca discovers it, threatening their marriage. When Evelyn Gromberg, Mitchell's wife and Alex's mother dies, the family comes together to heal. At Evelyn's funeral in suburban New York, Rebecca tells Alex that she knows about his romantic fling. Alex and Mitchell talk about past hurts.
Back at their home in New York City, Asher is discovered with illegal drugs. Although devastated, Rebecca and Mitchell are supportive and vow to get help for Asher. Mitchell's older brother Stephen dies and he, Alex and Asher give him a farewell send-off. Although he is forced to sleep on the living room couch, Mitchell tells Rebecca that he wants to make peace; she agrees.Michael Douglas as Alex Gromberg
Kirk Douglas as Mitchell Gromberg
Cameron Douglas as Asher Gromberg
Diana Dill as Evelyn Gromberg
Bernadette Peters as Rebecca Gromberg
Rory Culkin as Eli Gromberg
Michelle Monaghan as Peg Maloney
Geoffrey Arend as Malik
Sarita Choudhury as Suzie
Irene Gorovaia as Abby Staley
Annie Golden as Deb
Mark Hammer as Stephen Gromberg
Audra McDonald as Sarah Langley
Josh Pais as Barney
Adrian Martinez as Mitchell's Doorman
In his role as producer, Michael Douglas suggested his mother (Diana Dill), Rory Culkin, and Bernadette Peters for their roles. Fred Schepisi noted that they were originally considering Sigourney Weaver for the part of Michael's wife. "Bernadette [Peters] was a really nice balance, playing straighter than you’d usually see her play..."
Total gross was $7,491,839. In comparison, Michael Douglas' next movie, The In-Laws, grossed $20,453,431.
Critic Steven Holden wrote in The New York Times that the movie is a "surprisingly complex and subtle portrait", and "Besides its laudable reluctance to tie up loose ends, the most courageous thing about It Runs in the Family is its refusal to try to make you love its aggressive, strong-willed characters."
Most reviews, as tallied by Rotten Tomatoes, were unfavorable or mixed; the movie has a "Rotten" rating of 28%, with the site's consensus stating "Despite its gimmick casting, the movie ultimately goes nowhere." Roger Ebert wrote: "But the movie is simply not clear about where it wants to go and what it wants to do. It is heavy on episode and light on insight, and although it takes courage to bring up touchy topics it would have taken more to treat them frankly."