It’s hard to argue with Robert De Niro and Zac Efron’s commitment to their roles, though this wildly inconsistent effort from neophyte scribe John Phillips and director Dan Mazer (the surprisingly good I Give It A Year) gives them pretty bare bones material to work with.
Following the death of his dear wife, Richard “Dick” Kelly (De Niro) requests that his grandson Jason (Efron) drive him to Florida. Jason obliges, unaware that Dick actually wants to crash Spring break, taking Jason on a booze and drugs-fueled odyssey, forcing him to consider whether he really wants to marry his uptight fiancee, Meredith (Julianne Hough).
Dirty Grandpa gets zero points for subtlety (nor much for originality) from the outset; it’s so overwhelmingly crass that it’s probably lost a large chunk of its audience before the road trip plot even kicks in. That the film sometimes mistakes wanton crudeness for humour is a given, resulting in a largely hit-and-miss affair that fires jokes both amusing and outrageously not at the audience with a rat-a-tat efficiency.
The real reason the movie works at all is the two central performances; De Niro may seem like he’s phoning it in taking paycheck roles like this, but it’s a good deal less anodyne than something like Little Fockers or Righteous Kill – at least there’s some discernible vitality in his eyes. Efron meanwhile puts his sculpted young form to good use in numerous scenes, even if it’s odd seeing someone as charismatic and handsome as him playing the straight guy throughout.
Supporting turns also provide some decent added value, especially Aubrey Plaza, who plays massively against type as a slutty college student intent on bumping uglies with Dick, and Hough, who is effortlessly annoying in a small part as the prissy fiancee. It’s a shame Danny Glover’s part as one of Dick’s old pals is relegated to a mere cameo, though, but it was nice to see him all the same.
The film falls down hardest when it stretches for sentiment and emotion; the characters aren’t likeable or well-drawn enough to make them especially sympathetic, and like so many movies of this kind, it cuts huge corners to get the results it wants (namely making a black-and-white villain out of the jilted lover to make her inevitable abandonment seem less harsh).
Thankfully for most of its run-time it instead sticks to the puerile humour, though be warned, this things registers way off the taste-o-meter, and produces irregular laughs for sure. If not the disaster it’s been widely touted as, Dirty Grandpa is still low-effort fare that’s absolutely not worth the ticket price (but maybe catch it on Netflix in a few months).
Dirty Grandpa is in cinemas now