A film review by Craig J. Koban May 21, 2016


DIRTY GRANDPA zero stars

2016, R, 102 mins.


Robert De Niro as Dick Kelly  /  Zac Efron as Jason Kelly  /  Zoey Deutch as Shadia  /  Aubrey Plaza as Lenore  /  Julianne Hough as Meredith Goldstein  /  Dermot Mulroney as David Kelly  /  Adam Pally as Nick  /  Jason Mantzoukas as Spring Break Wally  /  Mo Collins as Officer Finch

Directed by Dan Mazer  /  Written by John Phillips

If your idea of a good time at the movies is to see the legendary Oscar winning actor of such films as RAGING BULL and TAXI DRIVER aggressively masturbate, drop n-bombs multiple times, insult homosexuals, make jokes about child and prison rape, and drape his penis and testicles right next to his grandson’s head at his pillow while in bed then DIRTY GRANDPA is most assuredly for you.  For everyone else with some semblance of taste and decency…flee for your very lives away from this film like the plague that it is. 

Let me go on from that rather graphic review introduction by emphasizing something about me as a person and film critic – I’m most definitely not a prude.  At all.  That doesn’t make me a person devoid of taste.  Some of the funniest films that I've ever seen are boundaries pushing originals that walk along a very delicate highwire between decorum and all out debauchery.  Crude and vulgar films can be sidesplitting, but not because they’re tediously and ostensibly foul.  The best lewd comedies have characters that are relatable and likeable, so we feel some semblance of sympathy for them when acts of social depravity happen to them.  

There is none of that in DIRTY GRANDPA.  This is a comedy that mistakenly thinks that perpetual vulgarity and filthiness equals high hilarity.  The entire film is the equivalent of sitting next to a chronically immature and inebriated degenerate that believes that yelling multiple variations of the f-word and acting like a homophobic racist is a riot.  The fact that this film’s degenerate is played by the likes of Robert De Niro – one of our greatest living screen actors – is as shameful as it is appalling.  Watching DIRTY GRANDPA was an endlessly nauseating experience as a direct result of that. 



But wait!  The film is about a horny old man that wants to score and show his grandson a jolly good time!  What’s wrong with that?  

Well, plenty.   

De Niro plays Dick (uh-huh, the film’s desperation for humor even involves the names of characters), a retired army man that has just recently lost his wife of 40 years.  At the funeral, he looks understandably depressed about the passing of his better half, and his grandson Jason (Zach Efron) tries to console him the best that he can.  Jason’s life, even if he refuses to admit it, is equally sad.  His heart lies with photography, but he became a corporate lawyer to mostly placate his dad (Dermot Mulroney) and provide for his extremely high maintenance wife (Julianne Hough, never more cartoonishly dislikeable than she is here).  Needless to say, Jason could use some time away from his wife before their upcoming wedding, and Dick politely asks him if could drive him from Atlanta to Boca as a way to decompress. 

Jason begrudgingly agrees, but when he arrives to pick up his grandpa the next morning he discovers a very different man, one who likes to gleefully take a “Number 3” naked and right in front of him while watching pornography.  As the shocking sight of that wears off, Jason soon realizes that Dick wants to get laid in Florida by a vastly younger woman.  Apparently, this was his wife’s dying wish (yup, sure, whatever), but for some reason that only applies to the make-believe logic of a movie, Jason still decides to take the Floridian trek with his grandfather in his wife’s pink mini-Coupe (which Dick refers to – throughout the course of the film – as a “tampon,” a “giant labia,” and “Jason’s vagina”).  Along the way Jason and Dick stop at a roadside diner and have a chance meet-up with a former college classmate of the former’s named Shadia (Zoey Deutch).  She had a photography class with Jason back in the day when he was an aspiring artist.  Also with Shadia is Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), a girl so sex starved it’s borderline demonic.  As luck would have it for Dick, she digs old men…and wants to screw one.  Lenore invites Dick and Jason to Daytona Beach for some good times, which forces Dick to make Jason course-correct their travels so that he bang Lenore...to pay respect to his dead wife's wishes.  Remember, she wanted him to “get back out there.” 


I’ve rarely seen a comedy that fails to land genuine and heartfelt laughs as miserably as DIRTY GRANDPA.  The wanton crassness on display becomes more unsavory as the film progresses.  Attempts at would-be amusing sight gags fall resoundingly flat.  For example, swastikas are not funny.  Neither are Nazis.  There’s a moment when Jason – after a fairly alcohol and drug infused party and night out – wakes up on a beach with a swastika painted on his face…but the tips of the symbol are penises.  He then has to Facetime his wife and – wouldn’t ya know it? – a Rabbi is also part of the call.  Hardy har.  Consider another random scene later when Dick re-visits one of his old army buddies in a care home (played inexplicably and embarrassingly by Danny Glover) that features him watching old re-runs of ALF, monstrously swearing at the TV while doing so.  This…is funny…in 2016?   Here’s another question: why does nearly every single character in this film unrelentingly curse at the drop of a hat?  Every person – young and old – seems to speak with the same level of offensive callousness.  Swearing is amusing…when used to accentuate a joke or pratfall.  When filmmakers fall back on it to be the punch line by itself…that’s the height of creative laziness. 

Speaking of vulgarity, what the fuck is wrong with De Niro?  Why the fuck did he appear in this film?  He’s 72-fucking-years-old, has won two fucking Oscars, and has fucking worked with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Quinton Tarantino, David O. Russell, Brain De Palma, and Sergio Leone.  He’s a cinematic icon.  

He also must be rich.  He doesn’t need the money to agree to be in films like this.  He also must have read the script and knew what he was getting into.  Why would he want to all but put the final nail in the coffin of his past reputation for being a critically revered and audience cherished thespian powerhouse?  Now, De Niro has been riotously funny in past films, especially when sending up his own tough guy silver screen image (see ANALYZE THIS and the first few MEET THE PARENTS films).  But in DIRTY GRANDPA all he’s pathetically required to do is talk dirty and act like an X-rated clown for 90 minutes.  It’s borderline tortuous. 

Two scenes in DIRTY GRANDPA are indefensible.  Early on, Dick goes on a toxic rant laced with gay and ethnic slurs directed at Shadia’s and Lenore’s homosexual African American friend Bradley (Jeffrey Bower Champion).  Now, the screenwriter (John Phillips) thinks it’s a hoot to have a senior citizen act this way, milking the scene for multiple cheap laughs.  Later on, though, Dick sees Bradley being accosted by some rough looking hooligans, and through the incredulous magic of movie writing Dick instantly becomes an enlightened and decent human being that preaches tolerance of minorities and comes to Bradley’s aid.  Not only is this preposterous, but it’s morally objectionable and laughable in showing the makers trying to do an abrupt about-face to their own wrongheaded infectivity at delivering laughs earlier in the film.  The film’s treatment of women is as excruciatingly awful as it is with black gay men.  With the possible exception of Deutch’s Shadia (a nice woman, but delegated to being a plot device used to make the once blind Jason see the disaster that is his future married life), most of the female characters here are broadly developed caricatures.  Aubrey Plaza is a wonderful comedic actress, but watching her constantly debase herself in DIRTY GRANDPA make me uncomfortably squirm in my seat. 

But wait, there’s a message here!  Dick, despite a never-ending rap sheet of flaws, is a misunderstood chap, because he – deep down – wants the very best for his grandson and pleads with him to quit his soulless job and dump his deplorable fiancé.  The manner that DIRTY GRANDPA tries to be a message movie about family values on top of being a parade of relentless and mean spirited foulness is pretty condescending.  I can forgive a relative screen comedy novice like Zack Efron for making a huge mistake appearing here, but De Niro has no excuses at this late stage in his career.  DIRTY GRANDPA is a film of limitless awfulness that shows so much disdain for its audience.  It turned me into a Raging Bull in a china shop while exited the screening.  Few films have left me so bitter. 


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