Director: Dan Mazer
Cast: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Mantzoukas, Julianne Hough, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Jake Picking, Michael Hudson, Dermot Mulroney, Mo Collins, Henry Zebrowski, Adam Pally, Brandon Mychal Smith
MPAA Rating: (for crude sexual content throughout, graphic nudity, and for language and drug use)
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 1/22/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 22, 2016
Has an actor of such prestige ever sunk as low as Robert De Niro does in Dirty Grandpa? Before you answer that, consider the third scene De Niro has in the movie. A little setup (but not too much) is necessary: De Niro's character Dick Kelly has just lost his wife of half a century. In the first scene, he arrives late to her funeral, obviously so De Niro can have a big entrance, looking very solemn as everyone else looks at him in awe. It's as if the filmmakers decided to give the actor a final moment of dignity before everything that follows.
In the second scene, Dick sets up the plot: He wants his grandson Jason (Zac Efron) to drive him from Georgia to his summer home in Florida, where he and his wife spent so many years together. So far, this is fine, right.
Now, we arrive at the third scene, which surely will not end up on any future highlight reels of De Niro's career (Then again, none of the scenes here should), as Jason shows up at his grandfather's house. Dick, fully aware that his grandson is picking him up shortly, is in a back room of the house, and Jason hears some groaning and grunting and moaning, as well as a woman screeching in pleasure. We think we know the inevitable reveal, as the promise of a newly single "dirty grandpa" and the sounds coming from the room suggest a coupling. Instead, Dick is stark naked and furiously engaged in a solo act, and while still stroking away, he turns to Jason and politely greets him.
It's a thoroughly depressing moment, especially in the way director Dan Mazer stages it from Jason's point of view, meaning that De Niro is basically looking at the camera and, by extension, us. If De Niro continues down this path, here's the moment we can point to in the future when the actor publicly announced he would be willing to do anything for a paycheck. Dick brushes off the embarrassment, saying that it's no big deal that his grandson walked in on him "taking a number three." We have to wonder if we would have more or less respect for De Niro if the scene featured his character taking a number two instead.
Here's the really discouraging thing, though: De Niro's performance isn't necessarily bad here. The character is awful—a racist, homophobic, sexist man who asks why he can't say "the N-word" (The question always raises another: Why would you want to?), repeatedly berates a gay man for his sexual orientation, and leers at women many decades his junior.
For the most part, though, De Niro plays it without suggesting that he's in on whatever joke screenwriter John Phillips believed he was making with this character. Sure, there are scenes here in which the actor is obviously stumbling, especially whenever he has to riff insults filled with slang and pop-culture references (which, in retrospect, is often). Then there's also the scene in which he raps during a karaoke performance, but through it all, De Niro maintains a no-nonsense attitude. He's invested in this character as much as any actor imaginably could be, and boy, is that fact disheartening.
It doesn't help that the movie itself is self-evidently junk. The cast of characters is overflowing with broad stereotypes, as well as characters that Phillips and Mazer clearly believe are so funny that they deserve multiple scenes of them doing the same dead-end jokes.
In the latter category, there are Pam (Jason Mantzoukas), a gun-toting shopkeeper who sells drugs to kids out of an ice cream truck, and Jason's cousin Nick (Adam Pally), a younger version of Dick who shows up on crutches during the movie's climax for no apparent reason (It might seem like a useless point to raise, but the screenplay somehow lacks logical consistency, such as when Jason scolds Dick for smoking the "gateway drug" of marijuana after the grandson smoked crack earlier). The former category features a "slut" who wants to have sex with Dick (played by Aubrey Plaza), a harpy of a fiancée for Jason (played by Julianne Hough), and a pair of dimwitted frat boys (played by Jake Picking and Michael Hudson).
We know De Niro and Efron deserve better, and we suspect Zoey Deutch, who plays Jason's unlikely love interest with real sincerity, probably does, too. Everyone here, really, deserves better than Dirty Grandpa—the actors, the crew, and especially you, dear reader.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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