0 out of 5 stars
Dirty Grandpa represents the end of an era. This era should have ended about 10 years ago, but, like Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Twinkies, and teen romance adaptations, it somehow survived based on name value and pure curiosity. I am sadly referring to the era known as Robert De Niro’s career.
De Niro’s career as of late has been comprised of mediocre comedies that don’t allow him to use his acting talent. I understand he’s been around for a long time, and thus would want to take some “fluff” roles, but he has looked either bored or embarrassed to be a part of them (See The Big Wedding and The Family for proof). I didn’t mind him doing these, as none of them looked interesting enough to warrant my attention. Unfortunately, the trailer for Dirty Grandpa caught my eye with its fun enough-sounding premise and cast. I knew the film would be bad (both when the release date was moved from August to January, as well as the damning critical reaction), but I didn’t care. All I wanted was a dumb raunch-fest with a few actors I liked. While the movie definitely delivers on the raunchiness, the plot is dumb and the jokes are overly sophomoric. The one positive element of this is the chemistry between Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, but it isn’t nearly enough to save this mess.
The film follows Jason Kelly (Efron giving the most forgettable performance of his career), an up-and-coming lawyer at his father’s firm. He is currently attending the funeral of his grandmother, with Grandpa Dick (De Niro) appropriately out of sorts. To add to this, Jason is set to be married to his fiancé (Julianna Hough) within a week. This film has one of the weakest and most rushed openings I’ve ever seen. Starting a raucous comedy at a funeral was a terrible idea, as it sets the wrong mood, and we don’t get to know Jason or his relationship with Dick before the plot starts. Sign 1 that the film is bad.
Anyway, Dick wants Jason to drive him to Daytona Beach so that he can continue the tradition held by him and his wife. Jason agrees, not knowing that doing so will put him on a path with drug dealers (Jason Mantzoukas), horny college girls (31-year-old Aubrey Plaza doing what she can), and an old high school friend (Zoey Deutch) who, through the magic of film logic, makes him doubt how much he loves his fiancé.
This movie is not terrible because it doesn’t have any laughs. In fact, I laughed a number of times in the film. This was not due to good writing, but De Niro’s delivery. He is obviously dedicated to this role, and, while I can see he’s having a blast, it is honestly painful to watch and hear him say such crass dialogue. Zac Efron plays the straight man here, and while he has decent chemistry with De Niro, he completely fails at selling his character. The very first thing we see Jason do is have a conversation with other lawyers from the firm, all of whom are adults. I understand that the character is much younger than his colleagues, but Efron looks laughably out of place. In an attempt to help this problem, several scenes are dedicated to Jason describing the kinds of accounts he deals with, but I never saw the character: I saw Zac Efron. His reactions to Dick’s antics are funny enough, but the character is poorly written. Aubrey Plaza is an honest bright spot in the film, but her dialogue is so awful that it takes away from her normal likability.
The movie’s brand of “humor” is completely shock-based. Shock humor is fine when used in small doses, but loses its effect after repeated exposure. Hearing Robert De Niro say how he wants to, well, do it a lot, is funny at first, but it becomes grating after a certain point. It’s not the actor’s fault, but the script. The plot is non-existent, purely whisking Jason and Dick from one “comic” pratfall to another. The jokes that work are played too long, and there are only a handful of honestly funny lines. I like raunchy humor that seems well-written, natural, and witty. Most of Seth Rogen’s films are like this, thus his comic career flourishes. This movie was made for individuals who want to hear profanity for the sake of hearing profanity, and nothing else, something that the studio should have noticed.
Lastly, the editing of the movie lead me to have sensory overload. Too many scenes take place in loud clubs with strobe lights, leading to a nullifying effect. I know it’s a “wild comedy”, but you can have party sequences that don’t make the audience sick (see my review of Sisters for an example of this). I felt sick for the rest of the day after seeing this film, and that rarely happens. I also felt the need to take a shower afterwards, as the film literally made me feel unclean. I like wild comedies if they are done right (Old School and The Wolf of Wall Street are examples, in my opinion), with the characters being the main focus. With all that, the ending scene of the movie (Which the trailer spoiled because why not) is one of the worst, most disgusting endings I have ever seen to a film. I will not tell it here, but just know it is abhorrently disturbing.
Dirty Grandpa is the downfall of a titan, the straw that will hopefully break the camel’s back of Robert De Niro’s career. Hopefully, his next project will be one that allows us to remember why we used to love him, but I refuse to see any more of his comedies. As for Zac Efron, he is young enough to recover, but he cannot afford another disaster like this. Hopefully Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising will give him that chance.
Rated R for Crude Sexual Content Throughout, Graphic Nudity, Language, and Drug Content