De Niro and Efron Battle Formulaic Comedy Situations in Dirty Grandpa
Review by Daniel Rester
I never thought I’d see Robert De Niro do half of the things that he does onscreen in Dirty Grandpa. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s not always terrible either. De Niro goes into full raunchy mode for the film and shows once again that he always dedicates himself to his material, even if that material is nowhere near the same level of his capabilities.
Written by John Phillips and directed by Dan Mazer, Dirty Grandpa centers on soon-to-be-married lawyer Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) and his ex-Army grandfather Dick (De Niro). The two take a trip to Florida after Dick’s wife passes away. While there, Dick tricks Jason into going to Daytona Beach in order to try to get him come out of his shell.
Dick and Jason spend time with Jason’s former classmate, a free spirit named Shadia (Zoey Deutch) who Jason inevitably falls for. Her friend is Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), a sex-hungry young woman who is interested in older guys like Dick. The four of them go through a series of insane scenarios as Jason begins to realize that he has much more to live for.
The story and situations in Dirty Grandpa are mostly formulaic, offensive, and absurd. Seriously, the film is so predictable and clichéd at points that I actually laughed in a bad way at just how basic the plot was. There are things such as the jerk jock characters that figure out the heroes’ secrets and expose them, a freeway chase to get to a loved one in time before she leaves, and so on. If you like your comedy scripts intelligent and layered, this aint your cup of tea.
Mazer’s film is instead filled with jokes about blow jobs, drug use, racism, homophobia, child molestation, and other lovely topics. Most of these jokes are crude and straightforward, without much subtlety or cleverness given to them in the writing. As such, a lot of the film’s lines and sight gags fall flat. Let’s face it: this is a film with a character named Dick who constantly delivers one-liners relating to penises.
What Dirty Grandpa does have is quantity. The film throws so many jokes into its 102 minutes that a few do land with hilarious results, even if a lot of the others become forgettable as soon as they’re said. One particular scene involving De Niro singing a classic rap song (I won’t spoil which one) actually had me laughing pretty hard. It’s those few unexpected moments that push past the stale genitalia jokes that keep Dirty Grandpa from totally falling on its face.
The game cast also keeps things energetic. It’s both fun and disturbing to see De Niro take on this role, and he elevates the film simply by being present; the fact that he commits to it though is a pleasure at times. Efron does his Efron thing, but here he is quite charming it parts and bounces off of De Niro well. The two clearly had fun with this.
Deutch is also radiant in her small romantic interest role and does what she can to try and make the character more interesting. Plaza gets mixed results in playing one note as Lenore, while Danny Glover pops up in a scene and has his talent completely wasted. Side characters such as a wild drug dealer, an inappropriate cousin, and two stupid cops are mostly by-the-numbers, though a few chuckles are to be had from their antics.
None of the filmmaking in Dirty Grandpa is really special. It uses tired techniques and a sentimental music score when forced scenes call for it. Only the colorful opening credits and a couple of great soundtrack choices make it pop on any visual or audible level. Then again, Mazer and company were clearly more focused on gags than artistic filmmaking as this isn’t a Scorsese-De Niro effort or anything like that.
Dirty Grandpa isn’t an excellent film by any means and has its share of cringe-worthy moments. However, it did accomplish what a lot of boring “comedies” can’t do: make me laugh. I didn’t bust up a lot at the film, but it did its job a few times and it was entertaining to see De Niro and Efron as an unlikely team. I can’t fully recommend the film to anyone, but those curious to see a different, dirtier side of De Niro may be interested in checking it out.
My Grade: C+ (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD, See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content throughout, graphic nudity, and for language and drug use).