Depending on which way you look at “The War with Grandpa,” a new family comedy starring Robert De Niro and now playing in theatres, it’s either about a child trying to assert some kind of control in his life or a gruesome exposé of elder abuse.
Based on the children’s book of the same name by Robert Kimmel Smith, “The War with Grandpa” is far more family-friendly than “Dirty Grandpa,” De Niro’s other ancestral comedy. The Oscar winning actor plays Ed, an old codger who gets arrested after causing a scene at the self check out at his local grocery store.
Widowed and out of step with the times—he can’t figure out how to swipe on an iPhone—his daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) decides it’s time he moved in with her family, husband Arthur (Rob Riggle) their two daughters and son Peter (Oakes Fegley). Trouble is, there’s no room. Grandpa can’t handle the stairs to the basement apartment. Ditto the attic loft so Peter is forced to give up his room and he’s not happy about it. The youngster declares war, pulling a series of escalating pranks on his grandfather designed to force him out of the room. Trouble is, grandpa fights back. “We’re in the middle of a turf war over a bedroom,” Ed says.
“The War with Grandpa” is part “Home Alone,” part “Jackass” but with an old guy. The warfare consists of slapstick gags mixed with the story’s easy sentimentality—Peter says, “I love you grandpa… but the war is still on.”—and adult diaper jokes. In other words, it is exactly what you imagine it will be.
De Niro does a riff on his tough guy persona, tempered with age and humour, that the film hopes will inevitably become endearing. That there are no surprises will be comforting to some happy to see old school stars like De Niro, Thurman, Cheech Marin, Christopher Walken (whose collective careers don’t exactly scream family entertainment unless you are the Addams Family) and Jane Seymour have some juvenile, if forgettable, good fun on screen. Just don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before, except, perhaps the tacked on anti-war message near the end.
“The War with Grandpa” is a harmless family film but the movie lover in me couldn’t help but cringe just a bit watching “The Deer Hunter” co-stars De Niro and Walken return to battle against a bunch of tweens.