Humor, it must be acknowledged, is entirely subjective. What some people find hilarious, others find rude, even offensive. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that … wait, never mind. Forget all that. It can be definitively stated that Dirty Grandpa is utterly unfunny. Or, you could say it’s as funny as child molestation, a subject which, incidentally, inspires one of its least tasteful gags.
It’s hard to know which is the saddest moment of this purported comedy starring Robert De Niro and Zac Efron. Is it the spectacle of the two-time Academy Award winner masturbating to porn as a sight gag? His shirtless “flex off” with Efron? His karaoke rapping? Or his character’s nostalgic remembrance about his late wife that “we also tried anal every five years.”
For those who care, the plot involves the title character, aptly named Dick (De Niro), recruiting his straight-laced, uptight lawyer grandson Jason (Efron) to drive him from Atlanta to Boca Raton after the death of his wife of four decades. Jason is at first resistant, since he works for his father’s (Dermot Mulroney) firm and is due to get married the next week to the neurotically controlling Meredith (Julianne Hough). But he reluctantly agrees, driving his fiancée’s pink car, which his grandfather alternately refers to as a “giant labia,” a “giant tampon” and a “dildomobile.”
Although he initially appears to be a suitably grieving widower, Grandpa soon is revealed as a randy horndog whose sole goal is to get laid. And it looks like he’s going to get his wish when, during a stop at a roadside diner, they meet up with three college students on their way to Daytona Beach: Shadia (Zoey Deutch), Jason’s former high school classmate who shared his now-abandoned passion for photography; Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), who sees Dick as the fulfillment of her goal to sleep with a university student, alumni and professor (he’s conned her into thinking he’s the last); and Bradley (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), a gay African-American who becomes the target of Dick’s running insults.
After stopping briefly to see Dick’s old army buddy (Danny Glover, who’s also humiliated), Jason and his grandfather wind up in Daytona Beach to hook up with the threesome, with an obvious romantic attraction developing between Jason and the artistic Shadia. Before you know it, Jason lets his freak flag fly, inadvertently smoking crack and winding up on a beach naked save for a plush toy on his genitals, with penises shaped in the form of a swastika drawn on his face (cue the embarrassing FaceTime call with his fiancée and her elderly rabbi).
Among the other repellent characters unfortunately at hand are Pam (Jason Mantzoukas), a zany beach store proprietor/drug dealer; Jason’s cousin Nick (Adam Pally), whose picture would show up in the dictionary under “Political Incorrectness”; and a pair of buffoonish cops (Henry Zebrowski and Mo Collins, the latter seeming to be doing a Jane Lynch impression).
Screenwriter John M. Phillip (usually, comedies this bad are written by a team) thinks it’s the height of hilarity to have the characters swear as often as possible, with De Niro uttering the F-word more times here than in his entire collaboration with Martin Scorsese. He also says the N-word, although not before politely asking his new friends, a group of black toughs who he had previously beaten to a pulp, if it’s ok.
(If you’re wondering about that last part, it has to do with a revelation about De Niro’s character that won’t be revealed here; let’s just say that he possesses a very particular set of skills.)
Efron, obviously thrilled to be working with an acting legend, throws himself into the physical comedy with game enthusiasm. But his penchant for constantly exposing his ultra-buff body, as if he’s chagrined that he’s never appeared in a Magic Mike movie, is wearing a bit thin.
It’s all directed as crudely as possible by Dan Mazer, who somehow came to think that this inane material was on a par with that of his frequent collaborator, Sacha Baron Cohen.
Far worse, Dirty Grandpa doesn’t even have the courage of its anarchic convictions, frequently abandoning its tasteless humor to indulge in sentimental scenes in which the characters pour out their hearts to the accompaniment of a treacly music score.
Whether he needs the money, simply loves to work, or has a strong desire to connect with a younger audience, De Niro really needs to rethink his career priorities. It’s fine for this brilliant actor to indulge his considerable comic gifts, but if he keeps doing crap like this he threatens to undo a legacy forged over decades.
Production: Bill Block Media, QED International, Josephson Entertainment
Cast: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Julianne Hough, Jason Mantazoukas, Danny Glover, Brandon Mychal Smith, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Adam Pally, Jake Picking, Henry Zebrowski, Dermot Mulroney
Director: Dan Mazer
Screenwriter: John M. Phillips
Producers: Barry Josephson, Bill Block, Michael Simkin, Jason Barrett
Executive producers: Sasha Shapiro, Anton Lessine, John Friedberg, Michael Flynn, John M. Phillips
Director of photography: Eric Alan Edwards
Production designer: William Arnold
Editor: Anne McCabe
Costume designer: Christie Wittenborn
Composer: Michael Andrews
Casting: Amanda Mackey, Cathy Sandrich Gelfond
Rated R, 97 minutes
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