By Thomas Simpson
When I first saw the trailer for Dirty Grandpa, my heart sank. Robert De Niro is one of the greatest actors to grace the screen yet here he was in a low brow repugnant comedy that wouldn’t look out of place in the bargain bin of your local supermarket. It is important to keep an open mind when viewing a film but the trailer made it difficult to do so and I feared my mind was made up before the opening credits. It couldn’t possibly have been bad as it looked, could it?
The humor is offensive, puerile and… funny. The shocking gags are designed to do just that with many of De Niro’s lines causing me to laugh first and hate myself for it later. Make no mistake, this isn’t a great script and De Niro delivers the same ridiculous dialogue as lesser talent, he’s just more able to make more of it.
Zac Efron isn’t in the same league as De Niro, yet he has a presence beyond his ludicrous physique and chiseled jaw. Jason Kelly (Efron) represents the safe choices in life, he’s a man afraid to take risks and finds himself submissive to both his fiancée and father. When his grandmother dies, his grandfather Dick (De Niro) asks him to drive him to Boca but the older man isn’t just looking for a ride, he’s looking to open his grandson’s eyes and encourage him to live. The story is full of clichés however it’s an enjoyable enough plot with a sugary predictability.
The film loses steam towards the end as the focus shifts from Dick and Jason to the latter’s relationship with Shadia (Zoey Deutch). She is a link to his past, a time when he had his own dreams and wasn’t merely a yes man. The jokes dry up as we transition into a rom-com which although inevitable, disrupts the tone. The earlier gags may have been vile but they weren’t dull.
There is a rush to tie up some loose ends for the finale which sees us care less about characters we’re supposed to dislike. I found myself rooting for Jason by default at times and found it disappointing that his obedience never appeared to evolve into any satisfactory retribution. Despite the ending being dragged out, the tacked on scene at the end offers an amusing resolution.
The younger man does provide a good straight man to De Niro who carries the film for the most part even if fans of the two time Oscar winner’s classic films may cry to feel he has been reduced to this. There are many cringe worthy moments, especially surrounding Aubrey Plaza’s Lenore and her lust for a pensioner. Not one for the thin skinned, instead it’s a worthy alternative to the Academy bothering films of the moment.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.