Friday, 29 January 2016

Movie Review: Dirty Grandpa (2016)



There is something inherently funny about watching older people do things associated with younger people… I think. At the very least, it’s humourous enough to warrant being the main subject matter for films, TV shows and YouTube clips. Hell, I looked at a film that centred on that same branch of comedy with Sisters. Of course, such a concept works better when it isn’t being inflicted on someone with a tremendous amount of respect to his name. Like, say, legendary actor Robert De Niro. While the man is still attached to some decent work thanks to his connection with David O. Russell, he has still had a serious low-point in his career of late. When you go from working with visionaries like Scorcese and Coppola to being in Little Fockers, you know you’re in trouble. So, time to take a look at the downward spiral of depressing screen appearances as we peer into what is already being called the worst film of the year… oh dear. This is Dirty Grandpa.

The plot: After the death of his wife, Richard (Robert De Niro) wants to sow some wild oats and find somebody new; preferably someone young and insanely attractive. His grandson Jason (Zac Efron), on the eve of his wedding to his fiancĂ© Meredith (Julianne Hough), is tricked into driving Richard into Daytona Beach, Florida for spring break. As he continually tries (and fails) to keep his grandpa under control, he realizes that maybe the life he has planned out for himself isn’t so ideal after all.

The film opens with the funeral of Richard’s wife. I mention this because the notion of this film starting with death is the perfect opener for all the jokes that can be thrown at it: The funeral is for De Niro’s dignity, for Efron’s film career, for the concept of comedy itself; it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. However, as easy as it would be to just denounce this as De Niro’s worst, that would be disrespectful considering how much the man is seriously trying to make these jokes work. The man’s delivery is what ends up keeping the rest of the production around him afloat, making for the only entertaining aspect of the overall product. As for the rest of the cast, Efron is weirdly miscast here; the guy’s way too baby-faced (yeah, still) and just too traditionally good-looking to work as the butt of so many emasculation jokes like he is here. That said, he’s still a decent straight-man that this film seriously frigging needed, and after a while you genuinely start to feel sorry for him because all of the shit that happens to him. Zoey Deutch is a stock love interest and doesn’t really develop any real chemistry with Efron over the course of the film, Aubrey Plaza only just avoids the pitfalls of Valley Girl annoyance with that vapidly disinterested delivery, and Hough is the typically overbearing spouse; none of them are given anything remotely funny to work with. The only other cast member of note is Jason Mantzoukas as the friendly neighbourhood drug dealer Pam, and the fact that this actor regularly hosts a film podcast called How Did This Get Made? is just about the funniest thing about his appearance here; it’s hardly his schtick of just stating the bleeding obvious.

The script for this, which is a Black List resident of all bloody things, is about 98% line-o-rama. Seriously, not since Hot Tub Time Machine 2 have I seen so much dialogue try to push so many buttons and end up saying so fucking little. It’s like John M. Phillips had a big list of taboos and he just wrote like a hundred jokes for each. He then proceeded to put blank pieces of paper on his wall, attach each separate joke to a lawn dart and throw them at the wall. If that seems too elaborate, it’s because that mental image is funny to me and I’m just barely hanging on as it is; I need chuckles wherever I can get them. Funnily enough, there is one taboo that this film doesn’t touch, and bear in mind that there is a comic relief gay black guy in the supporting cast: Transgenderism. That is literally the only topic that isn’t approached here, while it is perfectly fine with sex jokes regardless of age and/or species. You know, if you’re going to show this little respect for yourself and humanity as a whole with your choice of jokes, at least go all the way out there; I could actually squeeze out some props for this movie if it managed that. Instead, it stays away from the one actually taboo subject… for all of its talk of how balls-less Jason is, that just shows how few balls the film itself has to begin with.

Probably the only thing that comes close to something clever with this film is its depiction of Florida. That being what is usually in-line with the rest of the world’s perception of it: Boobs, drugs and enough insane criminal stories to fill the British Library. However, to either make it a viable source of comedy or to even have it fit with the rest of the film, they do not go nearly far enough with it. We have Pam as the barely-concealed drug dealer and two bumbling policemen who are assholes, but not to the point where it feels like this joke is worth using. C’mon, guys punching horses in the arse, making bail money by selling moonshine, people smuggling all sorts of assorted items in various body cavities; I know that this is going beyond the point of the story, but these people are clearly desperate for anything that can get a laugh. A bit of effort, you schmucks; that’s all I’m asking.

Actually, getting back to the story, whatever statements this film wants to make about spring break and its inherent vibe of freedom and debauchery as a means of personal development don’t matter. Yeah, as much as the out-of-place orchestral music and hackneyed 2% of actual writing want to convince the audience otherwise, the general air of “we’re just saying shit that sounds funny” weakens any moment when the film tries to be taken seriously. It’s like watching a man dive into a kiddie pool full of fossilized T-Rex faeces, land on his head, pass out from the sudden trauma and then wake up a second later to try and help you through your most recent break-up; it’s awkward, to say the least. It doesn’t help that, in terms of Jason and Shadia’s relationship, the progression is about as textbook as you can get. It follows it to the letter, right down to the third-act separation and needing to chase down the love interest before they leave the country.

All in all, because the main character’s name is Jason, I kept thinking back on Heavy Rain’s Press X To Jason as I watched it. Yeah, that’s just about the funniest thing I can recollect about this movie; a random meme that I just happened to remember while in the cinema. De Niro is giving it his best, and granted he does manage to get a few laughs as a result, but this is just another comedy that tries way too hard to shock and offend as a form of humour to even bother writing actual jokes; it’s this year’s Hot Tub Time Machine 2, basically. That said, I still wouldn’t consider this to be De Niro’s lowest point; as bad as the jokes would get, and dear God they were bad, nothing in this film made me facepalm and feel as much immediate shame as The Godfocker did. It’s worse than Point Break which at least put considerable effort into its stunt work; nothing here shows that kind of work being put in.

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