De Niro tries his best, but this formulaic comedy is offensively unfunny.
January 29, 2016
Robert De Niro tries to inspire laughs, Zac Efron takes off his shirt and Aubrey Plaza fires off ample snark. They're the obvious parts of Dirty Grandpa — or, more accurately, the most obvious parts. There's little within the film's frames that could be called subtle or surprising, or appropriate or amusing for that matter.
Given that the movie follows a randy, rowdy, rude and crude senior citizen and his straight-laced lawyer grandson, its lowest common denominator approach is hardly unexpected. What's more tiresome is the been-there, seen-that nature of it all. Audiences who have seen Bad Grandpa, Spring Breakers, The Hangover or any party flick will already be more than familiar with the tired material the movie trots out.
When Dick Kelly (De Niro) is widowed and seemingly bereaved, he claims to needs his grandson Jason (Efron) to drive him down to Florida. Though Jason's wedding to the demanding Meredith (Julianne Hough) is mere days away, he reluctantly agrees. But once they're on the road, Dick reveals his true boozing and womanising plans. Along the way, the duo cross paths with Jason's former high school classmate Shadia (Zoey Deutch) and her pal Lenore (Plaza), aka new romantic prospects for both men.
Yes, it's all as formulaic as it sounds — and yes, the gags are as well. Showcasing terrible male behaviour is the clear aim of the game, all in the name of apparent hilarity that never comes to fruition. Alas, there's little that's humorous about De Niro pleasuring himself, pairing up with Plaza or physically assaulting Efron's genitals, or about scenes of drinking and drug-taking that could've come from any similar offering. Director Dan Mazer may have co-scripted Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Brüno, and writer John Phillips might be helping pen the upcoming Bad Santa sequel, but neither man demonstrates the cleverness of those films in their work here.
Instead, they craft the kind of visually shiny, emotionally soulless movie that trades in standard scenarios and stereotypes, attempts to shock just by being as outlandish as possible, and appears the result of very little effort. And yet, as lazy as the bulk of Dirty Grandpa proves, the same charge can't be levelled at De Niro. Swearing like he's in a Martin Scorsese film, he's as committed to his role as he has been in years, though he's firmly in over-the-top mode. The same can be said of Plaza, who furthers the movie's problematic portrayal of women, but still rattles off filthy chatter with relish.
Efron, sadly, mostly just looks bored, clearly having had more fun impersonating De Niro in Bad Neighbours than he does acting opposite the real thing here. Viewers will likely share his pain, particularly when the feature tries to mix its taboo jokes with sentimental heart-to-hearts. There's a supposedly soft centre underneath Dirty Grandpa's vulgarity and music video aesthetics, but it's as ill conceived as everything else.