Director: Dan Mazer
Cast: Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Mantzoukas, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Adam Pally
Plot: Soon-to-be-wed, Jason (Efron) is emotionally blackmailed into driving his recently widowed grandpa (De Niro) to Florida. He isn’t aware that his grandpa only has sex on the mind.
Robert De Niro has found himself a new game. As one of the greatest actors of the 70s with some of the best films of that decade to his name, De Niro has a pretty high standing in the cinephile world. There was a time when he could do no wrong. However, while the career of his past involved finding twisted characters to throw himself into using his preferred Method acting technique, in his older age, he has admittedly in interviews that the time where his body and mind can take such strain is over. Therefore De Niro has a new way to push his acting abilities to their extremes. Take the worst, one-dimensional characters in bargain bin movies and somehow pull out some depth from the bag. Once upon a time, we thought the likes of Meet the Parents, De Niro appearing in a Ben Stiller comedy was the low point of a great actor’s career. There De Niro impressed with his comedy talents. Since then we have had other comedy stints from the actor, like appearing in watered down mobster comedy, the Family, geriatric road trip movie, Last Vegas and several bit parts in between. Here, De Niro seems to reach right downs into the dregs of the script world and pulls out Dirty Grandpa, a character who, immediately after attending his wife’s funeral, ropes his bewildered grandson along for a sex and drug-filled road trip down to Florida. The very thought of the great De Niro taking such a character is another to make you cringe with embarrassment. It is the kind of role a struggling actor would take and secretly loathe it, yet here De Niro grabs the gross-out humour and makes it his own. And yes, perhaps, De Niro does make Bad Grandpa a better movie than it would be without him in it. Emotional beats and life lessons test De Niro’s abilities at coaxing drama from the dick jokes. However for every moment we appreciate De Niro making this movie a little less rough around the edges, there are twice as many other moments where you are just embarrassed to be watching this. Efron walks on Robert De Niro masturbating, De Niro shoves his dick in Efron’s face while he is drifting to sleep… a part of you just can’t get over the fact that De Niro didn’t tear the script up when it was first offered to him. The writers must have balls the size of cannonballs to even offer it to the actor.
The rest of the cast suffer the same “why are you even here?” to a lesser degree. No one pulls a bad performance. Zac Efron tries to make use of his new-found comedy style, but Dirty Grandpa is no Bad Neighbours, lumbering him with the straight character who only gets to show off his joke-telling abilities on choice occasions. Efron’s highlights: attacking a party wearing nothing but a bumblebee (you have to see it to understand), satirising his High School musical origins (“you are so good at singing, you suck!”). Aubrey Plaza is another example. She is great here, funny as ever, but she has touched these beats too often before. It is time for her to move onto another character. It does leave the door wide open for the cameo stars to slide under the radar. Brooklyn Nine Nine’s Jason Mantzoukas is great as the crazy drug-dealer and Adam Pally is good support as the weirdo brother of Efron. But on the whole, Bad Grandpa doesn’t have enough great jokes to hold together the good ones. The comedy pitch is that this is a movie that strips away the innuendo and just goes extreme all the times. For example, Aubrey Plaza’s character gets several opportunities to use some sexual innuendos, but the writers instead cut the wordplay and just say the meaning behind the usual smoke screen. There is no boundaries to the gags. And there are moments when the shock value is enough. One uncomfortable but rib-aching moment involves Zac Efron waking up on a beach, hungover, and being approached by a child. But on the most part, stripping away the teasing and going straight for the main course leaves Bad Grandpa nowhere to go. It shows its hand to early and leaves the film to peter out. De Niro should have stuck to method acting.
Final Verdict: It’s better than you’d expect, but is still an awkward example of crass humour.