Dirty Grandpa (2016)
They’re hitting the road. And everything on it.
Conservative metrosexual lawyer Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) is about a week away from his picture-perfect wedding, engaged to marry his controlling shrew of a girlfriend Meredith Goldstein (Julianne Hough), putting him on a fast track for a promotion at the law firm in which he works, with the promise of being made partner just an eyeshot in range. However, tragedy strikes when Jason’s much-loved grandmother (after a long battle with cancer) dies, leaving her husband Dick (Robert De Niro), Jason’s grandpa, alone for the first time in forty years. Following the funeral, Dick asks the uptight Jason if he could drive him to Boca Raton, Florida, so that the grieving widow can mourn in solace at his cherished getaway home, Dick using his suspended license to coerce Jason into the bogus trek. A pressured Jason reluctantly agrees, promising his bridezilla fiancé that he’ll return home in a couple of days, tops.
The subsequent morning, when Jason arrives at Dick’s house ready to embark on a seemingly innocent journey, his grandpa’s true agenda emerges, Dick revealing himself to be a vulgar, liquor-guzzling potty-mouth with one sole objective: sex, and loads of it. You see, Dick had been a fond and faithful husband throughout the years — he loved his wife up until the bitter end — but now that she was gone, Dick was determined to live it up again (seeing as he only had a few good years left); and, having had a 15-year ‘sex drought,’ this horndog was ready to get back in the sack — eager to get it on with a sweet twentysomething college student.
On route to Florida, the duo stop over at a diner where Jason bumps into an old college acquaintance, the free-spirited Shadia (Zoey Deutch), an aspiring photographer traveling to Dakota Beach for Spring Break with her two friends — seductive nymphomaniac Lenore (Aubrey Plaza) and their overtly gay companion, Richard (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) — for one last harrah, the trio being in their final year of studies. Upon discovering that Lenore’s main objective before graduation was to bonk a college professor, the hedonistic Dick (just like that) fabricates a whole facade where he just so happens to be a college professor working on an article for Time magazine, accompanied by his ‘pal’ Jason, who, as it turns out, is an accomplished photojournalist — coincidence? Now, ditching their itinerary for a perverted and frenzied detour, Dick and Jason peruse the babes all the way to North Dakota which, in turn, results in an off-the-rails road trip that re-unites the polar opposite blood relatives as Jason and his cigar chomping ‘dirty’ grandpa begin to forge an inter-generational bond — in amongst Dick’s pleasure-seeking shenanigans, of course — learning from one another and forming a real connection along the way (something the pair never had before).
Not to be confused with Bad Grandpa — the 2013 Jackass produced film starring Johnny Knoxville as a prosthetics-laden grandpa who ventures across the USA playing pranks on unsuspecting victims — though certainly borrowing from the same playbook, Dirty Grandpa is a tacky and trashy comedy that sacrifices its fun premise and affable stars for cheap, offensive blows and juvenile gags, resulting in a ribald and unfunny gross-out that’s got its head firmly planted in the gutter.
Dirty Grandpa is essentially doomed from the get-go. Alarm bells go off within the first few minutes where we see legendary cinematic icon Robert De Niro stark naked, masturbating to porn (no one needs to see that) — and the film only gets worse from there. Penned by first-time screenwriter John Phillips and directed by Dan Mazer — a guy who’s know for his droll writing on Da Ali G Show (2000) — Dirty Grandpa is a crass, misguided and cringe-worthy ordeal, populated by an overabundance of stereotypes; it’s a film which sees our marginally unlikable heroes go from one shameful set-piece to the next.
Okay sure, Efron may be trying to distance himself from the tired teen-idol image that propelled him to stardom; but c’mon Zac, is this really the way? And yes, De Niro is probably at that stage of his career, ready to spread his wings and travel down new avenues; but c’mon Bob, is this the type of role you’d want to be remembered for? While it’s evident that De Niro and Efron do display contagious on screen camaraderie, the flick’s lowbrow strategy is just plain deplorable — let’s offend everyone then apologize for it later — as characters spew out comments that are racist, misogynistic and homophobic while scenes of a young boy ‘supposedly’ groping Efron’s junk and a Nazi swastika made out of male genitalia (drawn on someone’s forehead) are supposed to make us roll over with laughter. Umm no. Between the random stopovers, debauched frat parties and wild bar fights, viewers are forced to tolerate tasteless jokes (most of which poke fun at minorities), endure enough penis wisecracks to last a lifetime and witness a scaring scene that literally lets it all hang out (excuse the pun), with the two-time Oscar winner flaunting his one-eyed trouser snake (albeit, a rubber version of Dick’s, well dick).
Working from such narrow-minded material, a game Robert De Niro, Meet the Parents (2000), and Zac Efron, Neighbors (2014), honestly do give it their all — it certainly looks as though these guys are having a blast — but it quickly becomes apparent that our frontmen are embarrassing themselves for laughs that just aren’t there; Efron strips down to his birthday suit (and dons nothing but a G-string where a stuffed bee covers his privates) and humiliatingly does the Macarena, all the while De Niro spends the bulk of the film’s 102-minute runtime trying to bed Plaza’s Lenore, whose one-note personality aligns with that of her wardrobe — or lack there of! It’s that kinda film, folks. At least women might get some pleasure from seeing Efron flaunt his pecs or exercise his vocal chops but, there’s no satisfaction in watching veteran De Niro shame his legacy and just flush it down the toilet.
Fortunately, the movie’s female players fare a little better. The beautiful up-and-coming Zoey Deutch, Vampire Academy (2014), who plays Shadia, is probably the best of the gals, Deutch embodying a character from Jason’s past, the pair having shared a photography class together at one point; though, Shadia is still (somehow) in school while Jason now works at a corporate law firm (how does that work?), making their whole connection rather sketchy. Any which way, she and Efron, to a certain degree, do possess a playful rapport, even if Deutch’s part is awfully underwritten. Cast against type, America’s sweetheart Julianne Hough, Rock of Ages (2012), slightly overplays her role as uber-bitch Meredith, Jason’s cold and selfish bride-to-be (but hey, she’s not all that bad) whilst Aubrey Plaza — best known for her efforts on television’s Parks and Recreation (2009) — works, I mean twerks alongside De Niro as Lenore, a sexually charged, grandpa-fetishizing dynamo. At least Plaza’s deadpan style is en pointe, with the filthy-talking sexpot snatching the limelight in most of her scenes.
And then, in some truly obnoxious supporting roles, we have comedian Adam Pally, from TV’s Happy Endings (2011), playing Nick, Jason’s hugely inappropriate (and tragically humorless) cousin — a canine breeder who (I kid you not) gets his kicks out of ejaculating dogs (yes, you read that correctly) — then we have two deplorable Sunshine State troopers — Officer Finch (Mo Collins) and her stale partner-in-crime, Officer Reiter (Henry Zebrowski) — actors so bad, they should probably be locked away for their atrocious portrayal of law enforcement. But these guys pale in comparison to Tan Pam (or whatever his name was: Tan? Pam? Pamela? Douche Nozzle!) played by an utterly abhorrent Jason Mantzoukas, Sleeping with Other People (2015). This repulsive jack-of-all-trades (shop-owner, jailbird, resident drug dealer and self-proclaimed party concierge) has simply got to be one of the most vile characters ever committed to screen; what’s worse, he pops up in just about every scene — from selling drugs to minors out of an ice-cream truck to an abysmal stint as an emcee at a beach body contest, Mantzoukas’ childish improvisation and lousy comic shtick is so putrid and so discomforting, he may as well be taking a massive dump on the cinema room floor. And then there’s a downright dreadful walk-on by Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon (1987), who plays some perverted old fart wanting to have his way with Jason — I guess Glover must have needed the chedda.
Thankfully De Niro’s horrible septuagenarian is slightly redeemed by the film’s third act, when the narrative takes a touchy-feely turn (so predictable), where father and son and grandfather and grandson repair their unsteady relationships, making amends for past wrongdoings, and there’s also something in there about ‘living your own life’ and ‘chasing your dreams’ — but it’s all a case of too little too late. Granted, Dirty Grandpa has some redeemable moments (if you can even call them that) — a sequence at a karaoke bar, in which the 72-year-old De Niro drops the ‘n-bomb’ while doing his best Ice Cube impersonation, is mildly amusing — but all things considered, what we have here is a textbook example of shambolic filmmaking: a rubbish script, wasted talent, punchlines that don’t land and an overreliance of charred gimmicks — let’s have De Niro and Efron slow-mo walk while a cool song plays: I bet that’ll look awesome, right? Wrong!
But hey, if you’re wanting to see Zac Efron in an emasculating wardrobe (or bare arsed) zooming about in a pink Mini Cooper, then this is probably right up your alley — though I’m not entirely sure how an ongoing gag about Jason being a ‘lesbian’ is supposed to make anyone laugh! For everyone else, let’s keep our fond memories of Jake La Motta intact and stick with the De Niro classics, as this ill-conceived and sloppily executed flounder should be buried deep in the ground and completely expunged from the history books. Somebody get Bob and Zac a new agent, pronto!
1.5 / 5 – Poor
Reviewed by S-Littner
Dirty Grandpa is released through eOne Films Australia