I have no doubt that Dirty Grandpa is going to get some of the very worst reviews of any film this year. It’s just that sort of lowbrow comedy. At the same time, I laughed way too often and way too loudly to completely dismiss it as trash. In fact, at my press screening, I noticed a lot of people laughing, some of whom will undoubtedly forget about that while writing up their scathing missives. To be fair, director Dan Mazer and scribe John Phillips didn’t seem to put a whole lot of effort into this raunchy comedy, but the cast really commits to the premise, especially a surprisingly game Robert De Niro. There’s very few actors in Hollywood who can curse like De Niro, and boy does he get to go for broke in that regard. Yes, you need more than just crude humor from an acting legend to make for an acceptable final product, and technically my thumb is down here, but I definitely have to reckon with how amused I was by something I could so easily have otherwise loathed. Dirty Grandpa isn’t a good movie at all, but it’s a shockingly entertaining one. I briefly considered actually giving three stars to this, though also spent nearly as much time contemplating a two star review. As such, two and a half stars for this flick seems about right. Dirty Grandpa is a sloppy and sometimes misguided comedy, but it’s also somehow a damn funny one as well.
The less this film focuses on plot, the better, but there’s a story here nonetheless. Essentially, uptight young corporate lawyer Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) has grown apart from his grandfather Dick Kelly (De Niro) in the years since he was an aspiring photographer while in school. After his grandmother dies, Dick recruits Jason to drive him down to his other home in Boca from Atlanta. Jason’s controlling fiancé Meredith (Julianne Hough) wants him home to plan their impending nuptials, but Jason is roped in and sets out for what he thinks will be a quick little trip with grandpa. Well, when he arrives and finds Dick mainlining alcohol and masturbating, he learns that this won’t be a calm little trip. Dick is hoping to get back on the sex horse and wants Jason as his wingman, leading to a detour to Daytona Beach in pursuit of a college coed (Aubrey Plaza) who’s got the hots for Dick. At the same time, Jason is getting to know a former college classmate (Zoey Deutch) who represents a very different type of woman for him. Whenever the actual story has to advance, this is pretty dumb stuff. However, when it’s just aiming to make you laugh with filthy comments, it’s dumb fun, and there’s a big difference. Not enough to recommend, again…but, it came close.
Of course, Robert De Niro will always be known for his powerhouse dramatic roles. That being said, he seems to have an affection for comedy, and that is one of the things that saves this from being a disaster. De Niro goes whole hog into being a perverted senior citizen, never missing an opportunity to spout out some of the dirtiest things I’ve heard in a comedy in some time. It doesn’t always hit, but it works more often than it should, mostly due to De Niro. Zac Efron is just as game, but as a straight man he’s mostly the butt of the jokes here. He’s fine, but Efron is definitely in De Niro’s shadow (as it should be). In terms of the supporting characters, a lot of them seem to be in completely different movies, from Aubrey Plaza’s sex crazed student to Jason Mantzoukas‘ absolutely bonkers drug dealer. Julianne Hough gets almost nothing to do, while Zoey Deutch offers some low key romantic sparks with Efron. Danny Glover has a quick cameo that has one of the bigger laughs in the film, while the rest of the cast includes Dermot Mulroney (given nothing to do), Adam Pally, and more. De Niro is what almost sells this, though Plaza’s bizarre comments deserve a special shout out all their own.
Director Dan Mazer and writer John Phillips are definitely the weak links in Dirty Grandpa. De Niro has comedy experience in things like Meet the Parents while Efron has Neighbors under his belt, so they’re used to this sort of thing. That being said, Phillips’ script just doesn’t have any meat on its bones. The jokes work more often than they don’t, but the story is so rote and predictable that whenever it randomly decides to get serious, you just roll your eyes. Throw in Mazer’s slack sense of pacing and boring visual stylings and there’s no added zing to it besides the jokes delivered by the cast. De Niro was clearly allowed to play to his heart’s content, and while that’s nice, the filmmakers just didn’t add anything to this flick.
Basically, Dirty Grandpa is a guilty pleasure. If you don’t mind a mess of a film that only exists as a delivery system for De Niro spouted filth, this could be something you’ll really dig. If that sounds terrible to you, trust me when I say this will be a painful experience. As someone who more often than not likes when De Niro plays, I found myself laughing more than I should have admitted to here. It’s a bad movie, no doubt about that, but I still enjoyed myself. If you wind up seeing this flick, keep that in mind. I’m not recommending Dirty Grandpa, but I am saying that you shouldn’t necessarily listen to those who call this a crime against cinema. It’s a lowest common denominator comedy, plain and simple. Make of that distinction what you will…