Hollywood is going through a “bad” phase, with bad Santas, bad neighbours, bad moms (this one’s not even released yet). Apart from from having “bad” in the title, the other common thread is that they are all pretty bad movies too.
So this brings us to Dirty Grandpa, a film that surely would have been called Bad Grandpa had Johnny Knoxville not already made a film with that title back in 2013. The underlying concept is the same: someone you don’t typically expect to be swearing and doing naughty things doing exactly those things. It’s outrageous, and these days, outrageous equates to funny.
Suffice it to say, I did not have high hopes for those movie. Sure, it has Robert De Niro, but this seemed like just another one of his many “keep gettin’ ’em checks” projects from recent years. And Zac Efron’s body might be ripped as usual, but his film choices have all been geared towards showing off said body rather than any genuine comedic chops.
So the premise goes like this: Robert De Niro’s character becomes a widower, and for some reason he needs to get somewhere. He can’t get there on his own and enlists the assistance of his lawyer grandson (Efron), thus setting up a wild road trip. How convenient. Of course, Efron’s about to get married to a self-absorbed and controlling girl (played by Julianne Hough), and on this road trip his dirty grandpa just wants to get laid, making things very difficult for him.
You don’t need me to tell you where this goes. The formulas are in full swing all the way through this one. From road trip cliches to identity crisis cliches to shock comedy and gross-out comedy cliches, this movie has them all down pat. Masturbation joke, check. Paedophelia joke, check. Penis jokes, check. Getting drunk and high and doing stupid stuff joke, check. Gay jokes, check. Black gang jokes, check. New love interest to remind us how shit the old love interest is, check.
The whole film really only contains variations of two central gags — 1. Robert De Niro doing and saying dirty things to show everyone what a cool and hip old man he is; and 2. Zac Efron’s uptight, straight character getting into a bunch of awkward and embarrassing situations so he can realise he’s not really happy in life. Oh, and if you can consider this a third, Efron is mostly naked for half the movie.
And yet, for all the crap I’ve dumped into this movie, I have to admit that there are funny moments. I did chuckle and laugh out loud a handful of times. But these hits, these brief moments of enjoyment, were all drowned out by the tsunami of hard misses. Dirty Grandpa tries to swing for the fences but ends up striking out most of the time. I would find myself thinking, “That’s not a bad joke,” but then almost immediately there would be something that completely oversteps the line — and unnecessarily so — to ruin whatever goodwill the movie had built up. I get that it wants to be a raunchy comedy, which is fine, though I don’t see any reason to go as far as it did. Adding copious amounts of shock value doesn’t improve a joke.
The performances are okay. Even a shit De Niro is better than most. But to see one of the greatest actors of all time defile his own legacy like that stings me as a fan. Efron does what he does and does it well — ie, take his shirt (and pants) off — though he doesn’t offer anything any other young pretty boy actor couldn’t have pulled.
The supporting cast is better. Audrey Plaza does her airhead skank thing and it’s funnier than I expected, while Julianne Hough has a hilarious sequence that delivered the biggest laughs of the entire movie. Lea Thompson’s daughter, Zoey Deutch, and Dermot Mulroney, however, are unfortunately under-utilised as Efron’s new love interest and father, respectively.
On the whole, Dirty Grandpa is a desperate attempt for laughs that falls flat on its face. Despite a few promising moments, the film goes overboard with the vulgarity — and in the end, with the unwarranted sentimentality. It may have achieved the goal of being offensive, but certainly not the goal of being funny.
2 stars out of 5