Review by James Lindorf
Throughout the 70s and 80s Robert De Niro was the king of guy movies playing gangsters, boxers, and an out of control cabbie. His career never slowed down even if the hits were a little harder to come by. In 1999 he began to incorporate more comedies into his filmography. He started with R rated comedies before moving to more family friendly movies like Meet the Parents. His latest foray into the family comedy is the adaptation of Robert Kimmel Smith’s “The War with Grandpa.” The movie from Director Tim Hill (Alvin and the Chipmunks) and writing team Tom J. Astle (Home), and Matt Ember (Get Smart), recounts the brutal prank war between Peter (Oakes Fegley) and his grandfather Ed (De Niro). “The War with Grandpa” is currently in theaters and the reigning number 1 movie in America.
After an incident at the grocery store Sally (Uma Thurman) insists that her father (De Niro) move in with her family so she can keep an eye on him. Sally and youngest child Jennifer are thrilled with the situation, oldest daughter Mia (Laura Marano) is indifferent, and Sally’s husband Arthur (Rob Riggle) is trying his best to be supportive. The real problem comes when middle child Peter is told that he will be vacating his room and moving into the attic. Losing his bedroom was the last straw for Peter, who has been growing increasingly frustrated with being targeted by a relentless bully at his new school. When his friend convinces Peter that “war” is the only possible way to get his room back, it becomes middle school vs. old school. Things start small but quickly escalate, and despite their best efforts, the rest of the family keeps getting caught in the crossfire.
There are many great moments in the movie, but there are also plenty of head-scratchers. For every genuinely sweet moment, there are two saccharine scenes where the writers bash you over the head with the message that war is terrible and family is essential. These moments are incredibly jarring and ring false like a tweet about someone’s two-year-old who wants to know when the proletariat will rise and seize the means of production. The script also skews too heavily towards the youngest audience members forgetting that a family comedy is supposed to appeal to the entire family. Even though the target audience is younger than Peter, there are enough adult friendly jokes that there won’t be too many silent groans if your kid happens to latch on to this movie.
The movie’s best scene is the high-stakes game of trampoline dodgeball between Peter and his friends and De Niro and his friends, Cheech Marin, Christopher Walken, and Jane Seymour. There is no doubt that this film features a great committed cast who bring all the talent and charisma they are known for. The War with Grandpa is buoyed by that cast, before ultimately succumbing to its dumb downed script and awkward staging with elderly actors who are clearly not part of the action. The film ends with a hint at a possible sequel, which I would be interested in because the issues are far from insurmountable. Even a slightly more sophisticated script would result in something that would appeal to the whole family.
Original Language: English
Director: Tim Hill
Producer: Phillip Glasser, Marvin Peart, Rosa Morris Peart
Release Date (Theaters): October 9th, 2020 Wide Release
Runtime: 1h 34m
Production Co: West Madison Entertainment, Dimension Films, Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, Marro Films, TRI G