Dirty Grandpa and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Dan Mazer
Oh look! A January comedy! THOSE ARE ALWAYS GREAT, RIGHT? Okay fine, we are definitely in the dumping ground season so anything that comes out now is either a piece of crap that got pushed back or an earnest effort trying to make a name for itself but wasn’t confident it could hack it any other time of the year. Still, we all love Robert De Niro, right? It’s not like he’s been in a bad comedy before… oh wait. Boy, there is not a lot going for this movie. How bad can it be? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the misadventures of Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) and his grandfather Dick (Robert De Niro) whose wife had just died and he plans to honor her memory by going to Florida as they had already planned to do before her death. He needs someone to drive him because his driver’s license has been revoked, and the only one with a big enough heart to help the guy in his time of need is the aforementioned grandson. Despite having his wedding only a week away (as well as an important meeting at the law firm coming up soon), he takes the old man on this trip from George to Florida but finds out very quickly that the man’s switch has flipped so hard that now he’s masturbating without warning, drinking constantly, and trying to stick his finger up the dresses of any girl he comes across. Will the very uptight and nervous Jason be able to handle this brand new grandpa that has entered his life? Will Robert De Niro get to fuck at least one more time before he dies? What obvious revelations will the both of them make over this bonding experience which involves massive amounts of drugs, multiple arrests, and swastika dicks? Does anyone else get the sense that this movie is trying WAY too hard?
There really is nothing worse when it comes to movies than a terrible comedy, and sure enough Dirty Grandpa is a TERRIBLE comedy. Why is that the case though? What is it about this genre that makes its failures so much worse than in pretty much any other type of film out there? I think it’s because we can recognize a bad movie that is at least trying to do well and can sometimes give it slack in that instance. Even though it was one of my favorite movies last year, Jupiter Ascending is a critical failure, and yet almost any review you will read of it will give it praise for trying so hard to include as many positive and diverse elements as possible, as the Wachowski’s are want to do in their more recent films and television shows. We can sometimes separate intent from execution in these kind of films and at least get some enjoyment from the lengths at which the filmmakers went to try and make something enjoyable. Why that fails for comedies though is that ‘trying really hard’ tends to translate into ‘make it more offensive’ which is A LOT harder to give credit to when it’s done poorly. Dirty Grampa is one of those films. It assaults you constantly with unfunny and baiting humor that can be amusing when it works and is unbearable when it doesn’t.
What kills this movie dead are the characters, none of whom are likable, relatable, or take actions that we would theoretically take in the situations they find themselves in. It’s a world full of assholes from top to bottom, and anyone who isn’t an asshole is a weak willed moron who we can’t root for because their spinelessness and cluelessness are off-putting. I presume the movie is supposed to make Zac Effron the unassuming straight man who we like for being a decent guy and Robert De Niro the wild card who we’re supposed to fall in love with due to his outrageous antics. Well Zac Effron is not a straight man and I don’t say that just because he’s pokes his dick in a couple of dudes’ faces at one point (har har). He lacks any rationality or relatability to make his downfall at the hands of De Niro mean anything to the audience, so when the guy gets screwed over and over again (both literally and figuratively) we don’t feel anything for this guy who we didn’t like in the first place. He’s whiny, he talks like an extra in a fifties PSA, and he has no sense of awareness. He’s socially inept and sticks out wherever he goes in a way that can only happen in shitty screenplays and therefore is no different from the mad world he finds himself in; blending in with the unreal aesthetic (while still sticking out in the context of the film) that he’s supposed to be reacting off of in a way the audience can identify with.
De Niro though is so much worse. While Zac Efron is a fucking tool and an unaware dipshit, he still doesn’t deserve any of the crap that his grandpa puts him through. They TRY to justify it by having this all be a way for Zac Efron to loosen up, but none of it takes HIS feelings or HIS boundaries into consideration. De Niro is just a selfish prick stringing his grandson along for the ride and emotionally manipulating him with guilt whenever he feels he’s had enough. There’s nothing here to like about the guy, and yet the movie treats him like he’s a golden god of manhood and confidence by letting him beat the shit out of a group of black guys at least a third his age and giving him a girlfriend who’s even younger than his grandson (among other ridiculous and shallow monikers of badass-ness such as breaking a guy’s nose and stealing his stuff when he’s down). Let’s just get one thing out of the way here. An old white guy saying racist and homophobic slurs, hitting on younger women, and getting everything he wants is NOT edgy or bold. Hell, an old white guy doing ANYTHING isn’t being risqué; it’s called being privileged, and this movie REVELS in it.
His material is also fucking weak. Car Vagina? REALLY? You’re gonna call the space between the floor and the seats a CAR VAGINA? Surly the caustic wit on display here would cause Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain to become green with envy! There’s an art to doing dirty humor but this movie goes for the ‘more is more’ approach and fills every moment of screen time (along with every line of dialogue) with a sex organ joke, a sex act joke, or a god damn fart joke. You know what REALLY kills me though? Despite this movie posturing like a peacock with a twelve inch dick, it still doesn’t have any sex in it! Seriously, De Niro’s only real subplot is trying to fuck the shit out of Aubrey Plaza (the voice of Grumpy Cat in Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever among other things) and the two of them spend the whole movie teasing it, and talking about it, and joking about it, but that whole subplot ends with a fizzle. To use the movie’s own parlance “It pussies the fuck out at the end like a bitch” and gives one of the least graphic sex scenes since The Room. There is zero female nudity in this movie outside of maybe a picture in the background of one shot, which leaves Zac Efron’s (admittedly fabulous) ass and a fake dick that we’re supposed to believe is De Niro’s as the sum total of nudity here. Does a movie have to show sex or boobs to be a good movie? Absolutely not, but the fact that they don’t in THIS movie specifically feels like a cop out from a movie that’s trying to sell you on just how far it’s willing to go in regards to obscenity, profanity, and sexuality.
I guess that begs the question, is there anything good in this? Sometimes De Niro will spout off a line that’s actually pretty funny, and Zac Efron is one charming mother fucker. When he’s given the chance to NOT play the stick in the mud, he’s a force of nature to watch on screen and I REALLY hope he can find something worth doing other than shitty comedies like these. I’m one of the few people out there that liked We Are Your Friends (also one of the few people who saw it) and thought he was pretty compelling in that as a twenty something with no real guidance in his life, so I know he’s capable of more than being the Richard Pryor white guy.
So in the end, is this a movie that failed due to lofty ambition, or was it just a lazy mess? Well the actors are certainly putting all they can into the material, especially Zac Efron who by far suffers the most abuse, and the direction is competent overall. Then again, the script is just not there and feels half written. There are too many repeated jokes, the dialogue lacks any genuine spark or wit, and the characters are written to be as cartoonish and arch as possible. There really isn’t a lot here if you’ve seen a single John Waters or Mel Brooks movie, both of whom were doing WAY better offensive humor decades ago. Hell, even Apatow knows how to meld offensive humor with genuine human insight and sincerity. This movie is all preening and no payoff. No honesty, sincerity, or even boldness to justify or provide insight to the offensive material. Save your time and go see something funnier like a city council meeting or an infomercial.
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