I figure the new Robert De Niro comedy is called, simply and inelegantly, “Dirty Grandpa” because “Filthy-Foul-Mouthed-Misogynist-Sex-Crazed-Pervert-Filthy-Rotten-Old-Coot-Grandpa” was too ungainly for the marquee.
De Niro plays Dick Kelly, a recently widowed seventy-two year old. His grandson Jason (Zac Efron) is a twenty-something who gave up his dreams of being a photographer to study law and join his father (Dermot Mulroney) firm. Jason has his life figured out—he’s about to marry the beautiful but controlling Meredith (Julianne Hough)—but is tragically unhip. According to grandpa he is like “Mitt Romney in Terminator.”
The grieving grandfather asks Jason to drive him to his summer home in Florida. “Your grandmother and I were there this time every year,” he explains. “It’s what she would have wanted.” Instead of a melancholy pilgrimage the trip takes a sideways turn when Dick goes on the prowl for a woman. He gets the chance to hook up when Jason bumps into Shadia (Zoey Deutch), an old schoolmate of his, and her friends, including the oversexed Lenore (Aubrey Plaza).
“The greatest gift a grandson can give to his grandfather,” says Dick, “is a hot college girl who wants to have unprotected sex,” so they take a detour and follow the crowd to Daytona Beach. There they meet a male drug dealer named Pamela (Jason Mantzoukas) who introduces Jason to crack cocaine, get thrown in jail, compete in a bodybuilding contest and much more.
Of course Dick’s unorthodox behaviour is ripe with life lessons… you just have to endure 60 minutes of pedophilia, masturbation and rape gags before those lessons become apparent.
“Dirty Grandpa” is credited to one writer but feels like it was penned by a group of drunken frat boys on the beer and bourbon binge. What, I guess, is supposed to be a funny look at aging and making the most of the time we all have, is reduced to a spectacle of a once revered thespian calling his lawyer grandson “Alan Douceowitz.” If this were a drinking game where you took a shot every time De Niro says “vagina” (and all of that word’s derivations) or any number of other words I can’t print here you’d have alcohol poisoning half an hour in. It mistakes politically incorrect “did he really just say that” jokes for actual humour.
Then there is the presence of the great man himself. I can forgive Zac Efron’s participation in “Dirty Grandpa,” he’s young and the idea of starring with De Niro (who he imitated rather perfectly in “Neighbors”) must have been irresistible but what is the star of “Taxi Driver” doing here? At one point Jason yells, “What the ‘bleep’ is wrong with you?” at him repeatedly. It’s a legit question. Perhaps it’s time for a career intervention. For the good of all of cinema let’s get David O. Russell to talk to De Niro before he accepts “Dirty Grandpa Pt. 2.”
“Dirty Grandpa” is the kind of film that, one day, De Niro’s great-grandchildren will watch and wonder what all the fuss about him was.