If movie reviews had a tag line, this one would read: We watched this so you didn’t have to – Gary Raymond takes one for the team and reviews Dirty Grandpa.
In many ways, Dirty Grandpa has won. About halfway through the film it is difficult not to come to the conclusion this is a piece of work assembled by the collective smug grins of a committee of people who prey on the weak minds of those of us susceptible to morbid curiosity – not those who slow down as they drive past car crash sites, but those who have come to feel a sense of pride at skimming over clickbait rather than jumping down the rabbit hole. Not that the makers of the film don’t think they have made an exploitative car crash of a movie. But let’s not give them the credit they think they deserve. This movie does not rise to the heights of trashiness that they think it does.
And that is not to be defiant in the face of obvious goading – this film is bad in every way, including its attempts to be bad. Its greatest crime – and this is the most unforgivable in the ‘entertainment’ business – is that it is dull. Dull dull dull. Duuuuuuuuuulll. That it is not funny was hardly surprising. The trailer,
cut to draw in both the boneheaded and the rubberneckers (like me), pretty much declared this was to be a film that revelled in two cesspools at once – the watering hole of the boneheads, and the smug irony of the Rogan-esque dire wolves. Dirty Grandpa wants idiots to laugh along with its racist, homophobic, misogynist toilet-humour (it’s often difficult to tell the difference between jokes about sex and jokes about shitting in this film), and wants, I suppose, what the makers deem as ‘non-idiots’ to admire its ‘offensiveness’. But that is the major problem (my god, there are at least 100 major problems with this film): the film is not offensive, rather it is an 8-year-old’s idea of offensive, an 8-year-old who says ‘vagina’ repeatedly then looks around expectantly for the dropped-jaws of its parents. Only the 8-year-old is Robert De Niro.
So… let’s do this properly.
Robert De Niro is the dirty grandpa of the title, who, on the death of his wife of 40 years, gets his straight-laced grandson Zac Efron, a ‘terminator Mitt Romney’ (a joke from the film that would have been funny had Mitt Romney looked at all like the improbably good-looking Efron), to drive him to Daytona Beach for Spring Break so he can have sex with college girls. It’s what his dead wife would have wanted. The premise is set up, and so is the tone, at grandma’s funereal, where grandson’s cousin, a seemingly drug-addled drop out, explains to a priest how he has to ejaculate a small dog into a big dog at his illegal puppy breeding farm. (I am being explicit here because I think it is important you do not mistake this review for a bad movie for a review for a movie so bad you should check it out).
Well, anyway… Efron is about to marry a Stepford Wife (a woman so preposterously ugly on the inside you end up half-hoping De Niro will reprise one of his earlier roles and beat her to death), and blah blah blah. It turns out the Spring Break ‘fuckfest’ (De Niro’s words) was not for Dirty Grandpa but was for Sad Grandson, so he could fall in love with some hippy photographer who wins this year’s hotly contested award for least-alluring barely-cobbled together love interest, played by Jemima Ten-a-Penny. Of course, it’s difficult to hate the women in a movie that already palpably hates them so much, but you cannot help but hope this is the end of the careers of everybody involved, and that De Niro and Efron both overdosed at the Daytona Beach wrap party. Efron’s moments of promise have disintegrated. And De Niro… well, what is there to be said? I feel the language of Shitty Grandpa is the only thing that will do here… fuck you De Niro.
Watching Robert De Niro chew his way through the nasty, carbuncular dialogue is like watching a beloved relative die a painful death. Some reviewers have attempted praise here, for at least he’s giving it some. Well, let me tell you something: every single one of those critics need to go and get their stomachs pumped. Never trust anyone ever again who has anything good to say about this movie.
Dirty Grandpa wishes it was an offensive gross-out comedy; it can only dream of having a snit of the wit, inventiveness and audacity of a Farrelly Brothers throwaway; it is constantly prodding at you to get in on the joke, and yet it is never funny enough to be on its side. It has to be said that for anyone finding any redeeming features of this film: it says more about you than it does the film. Perhaps the critics in The Guardian Film Show last week are so jaded, so hopeful for De Niro that they could not bring themselves to slam it entirely. But the rare flimflamming of critics trying to find goodness here reminds me of the Daily Mail critic (I won’t name him) who wrote in his moralising takedown of Kick-Ass that the film ‘sexualised young girls’ in the characterisation and costuming (!) of Chloe Grace Moretz’s Hit Girl, to which surely every person reading it went, ‘ummmmm, not in my house it doesn’t, Mr Tookey.’ (Whoops!)
And so in conclusion. Bad Grandpa is dull, it is puerile, it is ugly. It is makes an embarrassing effort to offend gay people, black people, women, Jews, the disabled, over and over again, and never once in a way that might make you think the writers are touching a nerve, or touching a boundary. Or touching a joke. It is dumb when it clearly thinks it is bold. And did I mention it was dull? Did I mention the subplot (of sorts) where Scabby Grandpa finally reconciles with his own son (Efron’s Shitty Dad) by revealing that he wasn’t around when he was growing up because he was actually a Green Beret Special Forces Black Ops Insurgent Behind-Enemy-Lines-Who-Is-Writing-This-Shit… a plot point that only seems to exist to explain how De Niro knows how to hotwire a golf buggy so he can ditch Efron and go chasing girls 50 years his junior, and turn a t-shirt canon into a slightly more powerful t-shirt canon. Every character is badly written, every word is badly written, every moment wrongly conceived, from the cuddly drug-dealer to the stereotyped gay friend (who De Niro insults with homophobic jibes at every opportunity, only to save him from a gang of black gangsters dressed like Michael Jackson in the ‘Bad’ video – redemption and racism in one clumsy scene). Special mention should perhaps go to Aubrey Plaza, whose performance as the girl who is, shall we say, most-receptive to De Niro’s teenage grabbiness, is so repulsively sexually aggressive I doubt even a drunken college frat gang would contemplate approaching her. They would probably call an emergency therapist, if such a thing exists.
But not to worry because obviously nobody involved in this movie will ever make another one. That’s how the world works, isn’t it? Justice prevails. Or maybe it was a dream. Maybe I didn’t see the guy who was in The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, The Deer Hunter, King of Comedy, The Mission, and Goodfellas, make a joke about ‘retards’ being ‘rapey’. Fuck you, Robert De Niro.
Disclaimer: No money was spent in the watching of this movie.
Gary Raymond is an editor and regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.