Dirty Grandpa Review
Robert De Niro crouches over a casket. Gazing forlornly into nothingness, his eyes are wet with tears and mournful music fills the air. Saying a wistful goodbye to his once cherished career, perhaps? You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but to expect such biting self-awareness is a tad generous to writers who begin Dirty Grandpa with De Niro mid-masturbation and end it with a gag about infant anatomy.
Zac Efron plays uptight lawyer Jason, tasked with driving his grandfather Dick (De Niro) home from the funeral of his late wife. Before long, our foul-mouthed geriatric pressures his grandson into taking an extended detour via Daytona Beach. Spring break is in full swing, and Dick is intent on living up to his wife’s dying wish that he move on…by pursuing unprotected sex with younger women.
The instant the opening credits (resembling a low-tier Buzzfeed skit) wind down, you know exactly what lies in store for the next hundred minutes: an onslaught of insipid gags which keep up the favoured method of contemporary American comedy, i.e. if it doesn’t sit well the first time, just serve it up again with a side order of drug abuse and a sprinkle of swear words.
When we actually reach Daytona (a location established primarily with a multitude of women’s backsides thrust toward the lens), we’re introduced to our supporting cast: Zoey Deutch is generic love interest Shadia, Jason Mantzoukas is Tan Pam the drug dealer (that’s gonna be one awkward episode of How Did This Get Made), with Henry Zebrowski and Mo Collins double-teaming the comedy cop role that wasn’t funny in Superbad and hasn’t improved since. Aubrey Plaza also appears as gentrophile Lenore, whose fiery opening zinger provides our only chuckle.
I won’t spoil that precious joke here because if you are planning to see this, you’ll need a life-line to cling onto once the wave of poisonously unfunny follow-up gags crashes down upon you. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill laddy, frat-boy, sub-American Pie shtick; I’m talking levels of casual racism, homophobia and chauvinism the likes of which make the cast of The Inbetweeners look like Tumblr-loving social justice warriors.
Almost as grim as the callous attitude towards anyone who isn’t our eponymous pervert are the moments where the film has the chutzpah to turn with a teary eye and ask us to buy into saccharine preaching about giving your old man one more chance. Sorry, but you can’t pull that one when the sight of Robert De Niro’s junk is still indelibly fused to our eyelids.
And sitting at the centre of all this chaos, destruction and degradation is Zac Efron. The Zac Efron who broke a million hearts with the High School Musical films, the Zac Efron who showed real acting chops in Me and Orson Welles, the Zac Efron who carried us through Bad Neighbours mostly unscathed. His hangdog whimper of a face throughout Dirty Grandpa is brought into sharp relief in a small karaoke vignette which is little more than a plea for us to remember him for what he once was, not what he’s become.
But more harrowing than the gutter-soaked script, slimy politics and sheer waste of young talent is seeing the face of Robert De Niro. You will recognise neither the symptoms of carelessness nor of phoning-in, but genuine boyish mirth.