Recently we had Bad Grandpa, in which Jackass star Johnny Knoxville disguised himself as an old man and embarked on a series of pranks that startled and shocked unexpecting onlookers. That film was tacky, but it had several laugh out loud moments. Unlike this dumb, tacky and tasteless comedy starring Oscar winning actor Robert De Niro as a horny grandfather who heads to Florida during spring break to get laid.
De Niro has played some iconic characters in the movies, but in recent years he has squandered his talents and intense screen persona on a number of substandard projects that keep diminishing whatever remaining goodwill he has with admirers. He redeemed himself briefly with a couple of solid performances under the direction of David O Russell in the recent comedy/drama Joy and Silver Linings Playbook, which reminded us of what he was capable of with a good script at hand. But he has blotted his copybook with this tacky and tasteless and decidedly unfunny comedy in which he plays a horny senior citizen. Dirty Grandpa is undoubtedly the nadir of his career (a career that includes the awful Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle, mind you).
De Niro plays Dick Kelly, who just days after burying his wife of forty years, heads off to Florida with the intention of getting laid. “I haven’t had sex in fifteen years,” he bemoans. Dick guilt trips his reluctant grandson Jason (a game Zac Efron) to accompany him. An early scene has De Niro masturbating (which he euphemistically refers to as a “number 3”) while watching porn, an embarrassing enough moment, but the film quickly deteriorates from there.
Jason once wanted to become a photographer, but he gave up his youthful dreams to follow his straightlaced father (Dermot Mulroney) into a prestigious law firm. Now he deals with tax law and seems frustrated by the lack of excitement and freedom. Even worse he is about to marry the domineering and spoiled Meredith (Julianne Hough, from Footloose, etc). The uptight and demanding Meredith forces Jason to take her car, a bright pink Mini Cooper, which leads to lots of comments about how emasculated Jason is.
The pair head off to Daytona Beach during spring break, that annual orgy of debauchery, sex, drugs and non stop partying. Along the way they get caught up in a testosterone fuelled rivalry with a couple of dim witted, muscle bound jocks (played by Jake Picking and Michael Hudson). Jason has a couple of encounters with the local drug dealer Pam (Jason Mantzoukas), smokes crack, and has a couple of run-ins with two of the most inept and incompetent police officers this side of Super Troopers, which land him in jail.
Jason reconnects with Shadia (Zoey Deutch, from Vampire Academy) his former lab partner in photography class at college. She is a free spirit into environmental causes. And Lenore (Aubrey Plaza, from Safety Not Guaranteed) is a sexpot college student with a thing for older men who tries to seduce Dick. There is something decidedly off putting, and disturbingly creepy about this scenario. Jason is continually worried about the upcoming wedding, while Dick is trying to show him a good time and make him realise there is more to life. He delivers some life lessons about following your dreams and following your heart. And both Jason and Dick have been lying about what they do in an attempt to impress the ladies, but, as usual, their deceit comes back to bite them.
The film obliterates many of the cliches of the road movie genre, and ends badly with an illogical and cliched third act. Dirty Grandpa is the first screenplay from writer John Phillips, who is also writing Bad Santa 2, and is full of vulgar humour and a succession of penis jokes that cater to the lowest common denominator. Most of the embarrassing humour falls flat.
The director is British filmmaker Dan Mazer, a frequent collaborator with Sacha Baron Cohen who has worked on Da Ali G Show and written Borat, etc, and is no stranger to this kind of gross out humour. As well as misjudging the tone of the material, Mazer’s visual approach to the film is rather bland and uninspired.
De Niro gets the bulk of the vulgar one liners which he delivers with the same sort of intensity with which he played Travis Bickle forty years ago. He acts like he doesn’t particularly care any more. When he read the script he should have realised that this material was not for him and passed. For his part Efron seems to be moving away from that wholesome image he developed in the family friendly Disney productions of High Street Musical. He fails to convince as a lawyer, and looks uncomfortable for much of the film. He gets his shirt, and much more, off in many scenes, and is even involved as the particularly tacky butt of an offensive paedophile joke.
The film is fairly misogynistic in its treatment of the three female characters. Deutch brings some charm to her underwritten role; Hough comes across as a stereotypical stuck up bitch; while Plaza chews the scenery as the seductive Lenore.
The humour in this witless and cringeworthy and distasteful comedy is misogynistic, racist and homophobic. Which means that 14 year old boys will probably love it. But then again they probably won’t be aware of the powerful and compelling performances that De Niro gave in his heyday in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, etc – which is sad.
Director: Dan Mazer
Cast: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Julianne Hough, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza
Release Date: 28 January 2016
Rating: MA 15+ – Strong sex scene, crude sexual references, nudity, drug use and coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television