Review by James McDonald
The first trailer for “Dirty Grandpa” was funny. I love seeing De Niro in comedies and this made me laugh out loud a number of times on repeated viewing but oddly enough, when the second trailer came along, the aptly titled Red Band trailer, which typically shows a lot of the “R” rated material not previously seen, the overall feel of the movie became less funny and more vulgar. When an entire film relies solely on Robert De Niro shouting the word “fuck” as many different ways as humanly possible, accompanied by continuously tasteless and vulgar comments, and Zac Efron frequently finding himself in degrading and at times, utterly exasperating situations, it really makes you wonder how a movie with such star power, could decline so rapidly.
After the recent death of his grandmother and at the behest of his seemingly distraught grandfather Dick (Robert De Niro), uptight Jason (Zac Efron) reluctantly agrees to drive him to Florida during spring break. Apparently, Daytona Beach was where Dick met his wife and once a year they would vacation there in remembrance of their first encounter and Dick wants to continue this tradition. With Jason only one week away from marrying his bossy and conceited fiancée Meredith (Julianne Hough), she is none too happy about the arrangement but Jason quickly alleviates her apprehension and informs her that he will be home in time for the rehearsal dinner a few days away.
He arrives at Dick’s house where he inadvertently walks in on him masturbating to porn and once they are on the road, Jason realizes that the man he thought he knew, the man he grew up with, who taught him how to fish and how to have fun, is not the same man sitting beside him. Come to find out, on her deathbed, Dick’s wife told him to enjoy the rest of his life and have fun and because he hasn’t had sex in fifteen years, to say he has a lot of pent-up energy would be an understatement but one that he quickly makes Jason aware of. He wants sex and he wants it now. Naturally, when the duo unexpectedly run into an old high school friend of Jason’s, Shadia (Zoey Deutch), things go from bad to worse when she introduces them to her best friend Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), a nymphomaniac who has a thing for older men. And there you have it. Uptight Jason learns how to unwind and relax and comes to the realization that he has been living his life according to everyone else, his father, his fiancée, and Dick and Lenore try, unsuccessfully, to hook up but have to keep postponing as preposterous situations continue to present themselves to them at the most inopportune time.
Underneath the never-ending, profanity-laden tirades and perverted visual sight gags, including one with a little boy that gives the impression that he’s performing oral sex, there is some semblance of a story. Realizing that Jason is about to marry the wrong woman, Dick is determined to make him see the error of his ways, hence, a trip to Daytona Beach during spring break where he is bound to meet the right girl. And wouldn’t you know it, the universe just happens to deliver Shadia, a beautiful and genuinely attentive young woman who also cares about the earth, right into Jason’s arms. I don’t mind a little serendipity now and again but this just stretches the realms of plausibility.
Once De Niro proved his proficiency with comedy in such movies as “Midnight Run,” “Analyze This,” and “Meet the Parents,” and showed the world that he was more than capable of poking fun at his serious self, people rejoiced. But just because the man, considered the best thespian of his generation, had conquered comedy, one of the most difficult genres known to man, didn’t always mean that he made the best comedic choices either, see “We’re No Angels,” “Showtime,” and “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” for proof of that. With “Dirty Grandpa,” I honestly can’t see what attracted De Niro to the script. There is absolutely nothing here that he hasn’t done before and granted, while screenplays change, from their first draft all the way throughout production, I doubt it changed that drastically. I can most certainly understand Zac Efron’s participation. Having graduated from the “High School Musical” movies, and wanting to be taken more seriously, the actor, upon discovering De Niro’s participation in the film, probably jumped at the opportunity to appear alongside him without even reading a script and what actor wouldn’t? If he was shooting a commercial about hemorrhoids, I’m sure there’d be actors lining up to act with him for free.
“Dirty Grandpa” is the kind of movie you’d expect to see on TV at two in the morning, brimming with raunchiness and depravity and starring a bunch of unknown actors, not one of cinema’s greatest living legends. While De Niro had a few missteps throughout his career, “Dirty Grandpa” is his biggest yet. I just hope he and Efron can bounce back.
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