‘Dirty Grandpa’ is a flat-out horrible movie. Stale, unfunny and offensive in unintentional ways, it’s the nadir of the contemporary R-rated comedy. The pain of sitting through this nonsense is made substantially worse by the fact that Robert De Niro, the Raging Bull himself, is somehow involved.
Now, it’s certainly not uncommon for De Niro to appear in a crappy comedy these days. Sadly, that’s pretty much all he’s allowed to make anymore. However, for him to play the title character in a movie as lazy as ‘Dirty Grandpa’ (so named only because ‘Bad Grandpa‘ was already taken), well… that’s something tantamount to a national tragedy. It’s the way of the world that even the best actors see the quality of their roles dip as their hair turns white, but watching one of the greatest actors of all time repeatedly shove his thumb up Zac Efron’s ass is an indignity that no one should ever suffer.
Efron stars as Jason, a preppy dink whose life was dedicated to winning the approval of his father (Dermot Mulroney) until he got engaged to a shrill narcissist (Julianne Hough) and let her run his life instead. On the week before their big stupid wedding, Jason’s grandmother dies. While attending the funeral, he agrees to hang around and play golf with his grandfather, Dick (De Niro). The next day, he walks in on Dick masturbating to porn in the first of many humiliating scenes for the accomplished actor.
From there, Jason is shocked by the endless stream of filth coming out of his grandpappy’s mouth, especially his desperate desire to get laid. (Yup, it’s that movie. Even Johnny Knoxville’s ‘Bad Grandpa’ had the good sense to abandon that limited plot thread at a certain point.) At a diner, they see a girl from college (Zoey Deutch) that Jason always had a crush on, with her two friends (Brandon Mychal Smith’s gay/black friend for grandpa to offend, and her elderly-sex obsessed friend Aubrey Plaza for grandpa to… you know). That gang is headed to spring break celebrations, so obviously granddaddy forces his uptight grandson to follow along. If you can’t guess every plot beat that follows, you just aren’t trying.
Yes, it’s another one of those “filthy old man teaches uptight young man how to live” raunch comedies – you know, the genre that kicked off with the genuinely subversive/hilarious ‘Bad Santa’ and inspired a legion of tepid imitators until the ‘Jackass’ crew had the ingenious idea of reframing it as an ambitious 90-minute prank. Fair enough. Rip-off comedies are a dime a dozen. The trouble is that genuine R-rated shock-and-awful comedy is far trickier to pull off than it seems. Sure, to the untrained eye, all that those movies require are a collection of creatively combined swear words and a fake penis glued to a standard issue warmhearted comedy plot. But it’s not that simple. You can’t just push buttons willy-nilly and expect laughs. No, you have to know why you’re breaking certain taboos and craft compelling characters. The filth and happy ending don’t sell themselves. There needs to be actual comedic talent and a purpose to all the naughtiness.
No one involved in ‘Dirty Grandpa’ seemed concerned with those nuances. Instead, they all figured that if they made De Niro say enough filthy and uncomfortably offensive things, the laughs would follow. Not so much. Sadly, the director responsible is Dan Mazer, one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s oldest collaborators who helped create his groundbreaking Reality comedy style. You’d think the man who helped mold Borat would understand that how and why a character says offensive things is more important than the phrases he spits out. You’d be wrong. The movie is just wall-to-wall juvenile filth, filled with enough sexism, gay panic, racial stereotypes, forced drug references, and potty humor to suggest that the script was written by a 13-year-old circa 1991. It’s amazing to think how many adults read this screenplay, thought it was worked, and then spent millions of dollars and wasted hundreds of hours bringing it to life. Perhaps everyone just assumed that when De Niro signed on, that meant their shit-stained screenplay was actually gold. How wrong they were.
The flatly shot and barely competent production is tough enough on the eyes without Robert De Niro being forced into one godawful filth-filled set-piece after another. He does things here that even Rob Schneider might object to. It’s sad to imagine the circumstances that led De Niro to agree to headline this swill purely for money, and even sadder to imagine that he genuinely thought the screenplay was funny. ‘Dirty Grandpa’ should be buried purely for the sake of sustaining his legacy. It didn’t seem possible that he could sink lower than parodying ‘Taxi Driver’ in a ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ movie, but here we are.
Everyone else in the cast is painfully unfunny as well (with the possible exception of Jason Mantzoukas), but it’s De Niro’s mere presence that stings the most. Yes, the jokes are pandering, the love story is less realistic than a preschooler’s Youtube video starring Barbie and Ken dolls, and the sexual politics are disgusting. These things are true and make the flick pretty much unredeemable. However, it’s the fact that De Niro is somehow in the middle of it all that sinks ‘Bad Grandpa’ below the level of most mainstream comedy swill and into a seventh circle of bad movie hell. He’s the reason the movie got made on this scale and the reason why audiences will suffer through it. The man should be ashamed, and we should all be ashamed for buying enough tickets to ‘Meet the Parents’ to convince Bobby D that a late career shift into comedy was a good idea.