Robert De Niro has been nominated for an Academy Award seven times and has taken home the golden statuette twice. He is, nearly unquestionably, one of Hollywood's truly great actors and is such an iconic figure that it's not difficult to understand why Zac Efron, the former High School Musical star who has struggled to find anything resembling actual fame as an adult actor, would jump at the chance to share the screen with De Niro.
Welcome to the world of Razzies, Bob.
I'm serious. If De Niro doesn't, at minimum, snag a Razzie nomination for his enthusiastic yet dreadful work in Dirty Grandpa, an aimless and painfully unfunny cinematic hinterland of a film amateurishly directed by frequent Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Dan Mazer and written by John Phillips, then the Razzies should finally be put to rest.
I don't care how many bad films Adam Sandler puts out on Netflix, Dirty Grandpa deserves to be right alongside them.
It takes both talent and intelligence to remain a Hollywood icon into your 70's, but it's hard not to wonder if Dirty Grandpa isn't De Niro's Jaws 4, the latter being a film that star Michael Caine acknowledged as being dreadful yet also a film that he's quick to acknowledge bought him a very nice house.
Seriously, what did you need Bob? College tuition for the kids? A new home for the missus? The bones of an actual comedy legend like Chaplin? What was it? WHY Bob?
Did you have an insatiable need to use the word "fuck" more times than I could count? Does your wife forbid the use of "cock" in the house? Is masturbating to porn a long held secret fantasy? Or are you just so grateful that you've lived past the age of 69 that you'll sign your name to anything now?
Stop it. Just stop it. You're better than this, Bob. No, this isn't a film that twenty years from now will be recognized as a comedy great. Instead, it will be almost universally regarded as a cinematic aberration in career that has been for the most part quite stellar.
Don't get me wrong. I understand. Heck, I'm getting older myself and these days even a really awesome bowel movement can make me giggle like a schoolboy.
The story, and I use that word very loosely, involves the aptly named Dick (De Niro) convincing his grandson Jason (Efron) to drive him from Atlanta to Boca Raton following the death of his wife of four decades.
Couldn't he have just hitched a ride with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube?
Jason is a straight-laced lawyer a week away from marrying his boss's ultra-controlling daughter (Julianne Hough) and gaining the fast-track to partnership with the firm. Of course, we know within seconds that he's damn well going to go and the two are off in his soon-to-be wife's pink car for adventures that are crying out for a decent director to direct them.
While I've been picking on De Niro, that's what you get when you're the star, the truth is that nearly everything that is wrong with Dirty Grandpa, and the list is longer than the grocery list for a Biggest Loser reunion, lies squarely at the feet of director Dan Mazer and a tech crew that makes me wish that those Razzie folks handed out tech awards.
The biggest issue may be that Mazer can't decide what kind of film Dirty Grandpa is to be, a comically sincere roadtrip flick or a Korine-esque edgy absurdfest. As Lionsgate doesn't have a history of gross interference in a filmmaker's vision and sure doesn't shy away from edgy cinema, one can only assume that Mazer's cinematic vision is decidedly lacking in cinematic vision.
There are moments, fleeting moments, when Dirty Grandpa is funny, though these moments mostly arise out of how completely unfunny the film really is and in watching actors trying to make a go of it. While I'm not opposed to edgy and boundary-pushing humor, even of a socially offensive type, what unfolds in Dirty Grandpa is nothing more than cheap, lazy humor that is immature, undeveloped, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, semi-encouraging of violence without any actual comic pay-off, beyond juvenile and so poorly edited that the vast majority of the comedy bits miss the mark.
Aubrey Plaza is a bit of a joy as Lenore, a sex-obsessed college student who repeatedly explains, in graphic detail, what she plans to do with this "dirty, dirty grandpa." While I'm as fond as the next guy, and more than a few girls, of a scantily clad Plaza, the bit becomes tiresome then cumbersome then just plain dumb.
There's irresponsible, and comically dead, bits about selling drugs to children, roofies, child molestation and more. Again, I don't necessarily consider these kinds of joke as taboo. In the right film, or the very wrong film, they can actually work. They don't work here.
Both De Niro and Efron give it a serious go here. It's almost painful to watch the 72-year-old De Niro attempting to make sense of this raging bullshit. While Efron has made enough bad films that another one isn't exactly alarming, it's still somewhat depressing to see the actor, whose never found a film yet where he won't go bare-chested, squandering away a golden opportunity.
I will confess that when I initially saw Dirty Grandpa on the screening list that I thought we may very well have the follow-up to the vastly superior Bad Grandpa, the latter being a Johnny Knoxville vehicle that actually made the concept of a naughty grandpa funny.
Dirty Grandpa? It must've bought De Niro one hell of a house.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic