Published Jan 22, 2016There are few things as embarrassing and uncomfortable as listening to an elderly family member say something inappropriate. That seems to have been one of the main ideas behind director Dan Mazer's (Borat, Brüno) new comedy Dirty Grandpa, a film that finds former silver screen legend Robert De Niro at such a low point in his career that it seems to have its own gravitational force, pulling every actor around him (Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney) to new lows.
Robert De Niro plays Dick Kelly, a horny former special forces agent who tricks his handsome grandson (Zac Efron) to take him to spring break with the simple hope of having sex with as many college girls as possible. Along the way he spouts some of the most xenophobic, homophobic and downright sexist things you've ever heard on screen, and it's not funny at all — it's just sad.
Of course, this is De Niro we're talking about, so even when he's masturbating on camera or talking about fucking a horse and "drinking its blood," you can't help but marvel at his conviction in playing such an unlikeable character. But that's not enough to keep the audience engaged, and when the film switches tone about two-thirds of the way through and resembles more of a traditional light-hearted comedy, it almost comes as a relief rather than a disappointment.
Dirty Grandpa is relentless in the worst possible way, bludgeoning its viewers with shock-inducing comment after comment until they're numbing. This is a big part of the reason why some of Dirty Grandpa's second stringers — namely Jason Mantzoukas as a loveable Daytona Beach drug dealer, and Mo Collins and Henry Zebrowski as the local law enforcement — end up stealing the show by delivering the movie's most silly and surreal scenes. Their comedy is natural where Mazer and screenwriter John Phillips' feels overly processed.
When De Niro accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 68th annual Golden Globe Awards, he listed off a number of his missteps along with all his cinematic achievements. Sadly, Dirty Grandpa is another movie that will likely end up on the former list and be further evidence of a career filled with haphazard choices.