Movie review: Dirty Grandpa
Robert De Niro and Zac Efron hit the road, and rock bottom, in this grotesquely sexist and vulgar attempt at comedy that uses crack and pedophilia as fodder.
Starring: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Julianne Hough
Directed by: Dan Mazer
Running time: 102 minutes
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
A word of caution: Forget the title. Do not take your grandparents to see this movie.
Crass, sexist and unapologetically unoriginal, Dirty Grandpa is an example of just about everything wrong with Hollywood these days as it seeks to recycle ideas that were trash in the first place.
And this script, in particular, feels like something you’d find next to a used condom and a discarded can of Red Bull. Written by John Phillips, the man behind Bad Santa (which is also getting another instalment), Dirty Grandpa seeks to exploit shock value to make us laugh.
It’s a cheap trick, but it’s one director Dan Mazer understands well having worked with Sacha Baron Cohen on Borat and Brüno. Mazer is unafraid of showing us male genitalia. He revels in cheeky shots of Zac Efron’s butt and he’s ready to go down — all the way down — to Daytona Beach to capitalize on barf and bikinis, because what moronic comedy would be complete without at least one shot of Spring Break Bacchanalia?
It’s all so tedious and transparent, the only thing that kept my eyes on the screen was Robert De Niro. I kept looking for some hint of explanation, a cunning wink to the camera saying “there’s a secret message in here” that would have justified his presence in this stinky dog.
Yet, for close to two hours of road movie tedium, De Niro did what De Niro always does: Play the part on the page, and play it to perfection.
It’s a talent we should always be thankful for, but now that he’s playing mild mannered retirees (The Intern) and lewd grandaddies, you almost wish he were a little bit less talented because then we wouldn’t be so focused on how awful the writing really is.
“You got a nice dick… you got my dick. Not your father’s dick. He got your mother’s dick,” says De Niro in the role of Dick Kelly, aka Dirty Grandpa.
Yes, there is more “dick” in this movie than there are jokes, even dick jokes, which means anyone looking for some man thrills may want a front row seat, but the rest of us may feel like we walked into the mens’ washroom after a tailgate party.
It’s an ugly and unoriginal collage of bits from The Hangover, Borat, Bad Santa, Old School, Spring Break and My Best Friend’s Wedding, but it’s also trying to tell a heartfelt family story.
Dick Kelly (Robert De Niro) buries his wife of 50 years in the opening scene. In the same breath, we meet his son (Dermot Mulroney), grandson Jason (Zac Efron) and soon to be granddaughter-in-law Meredith (Julianne Hough).
Jason is a corporate lawyer, just like his dad. And he’s square and conservative, just like his dad. But Dick wants to shake Jason up, so he coerces him into taking him down to Florida for a goodbye ritual for his late wife.
Jason is reluctant to go because he is getting married to Meredith in a few days, but agrees to the trek because he’s a good boy.
Mazer leaves no room for subtlety. Everything in Dirty Grandpa is telegraphed within minutes of the opening scene. Jason wears preppy clothes. Dick has a mysterious military tattoo on his back. And Meredith spends too much time thinking about napkin colors for the wedding, which means she must be a shallow bitch.
Dick wants to remind Jason that he had a dream once, a dream of being… a photographer! What else? It used to be a believable soul goal in movies to be an aspiring Avedon or Arbus, but it’s a little dated in these days of digital and wholesale purges of paid photographers at major outlets.
Jason would have a secure future in corporate law as well as a chance to change things for the better, but before long, he’s reunited with an old friend from college named Shadia (Zoey Deutch).
There’s a whiff of chemistry, and a few scenes later, Jason is buck naked with a stuffed bee on his crotch smoking crack. Yeah. Crack. Then there’s a gag with a kid who wants to stroke the bee, and this is where the movie crosses the line from shock-based guffaw to plain old bad taste.
Crack and pedophilia are not funny, but this movie tries to capitalize on both to generate laughs, and they do it over and over again. There’s a grating persistence to it all, as though shoving genitalia into our face will finally make us swallow, or watching De Niro seduce Aubrey Plaza will somehow become believable.
Robert De Niro is 75. Aubrey Plaza is 31. Even they look embarrassed about it all, but like good actors, they each pony up a great performance in a desperately awful film.
The script tries to justify its raunchiness with a lame family values moment at the end, but even the last-minute bid at old-fashioned heroism via a secret military posting feels like someone pulled a dead eagle from his pants in a bid to impress.
Shock value has its place and dirty, raunchy gags can be funny, but you need a lot of intelligence and skills to pull it off. The only thing this movie can do is pull its dick out and wave it in our faces, which isn’t all that funny. It’s kind of sad.
THE EX-PRESS, January 22, 2016