This Ain't Your Grandpa's Comedy
An uptight grandson and his recently widowed grandfather set out to Florida during spring break in a movie called "Dirty Grandpa". What could go wrong?
The new Robert De Niro-Zac Efron comedy is essentially a one-joke film; the title gives away all of the humor to be expected from this movie. De Niro's former Army General Dick Kelly loses the love of his life one day and sets out to Florida the next to hit on college girls. He tricks his grandson, Jason (Efron), into driving him. The reasons for their trip are never made completely clear but they end up crashing spring break in Daytona Beach because Dick is ready to get back out there (again, the day after his wife's funeral).
Jason isn't prepared for what his grandfather has in store for him. He is marrying Meredith (Julianne Hough) in a week and is expecting to take a hassle-free trip with his grandfather, who he hasn't spent much time with since he was a kid. From the moment he picks his grandfather up, Jason knows he might have gotten himself into a lot more than he bargained for.
Dick wants to party and have sex with college girls. Thankfully, the screenplay places them at the same diner as a group of college friends - Shadia (Zoey Deutch), Lenore (Aubrey Plaza) and Bradley (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman). Shadia used to be in the same college photography classes as Jason, and Lenore has a thing for old guys. It's grandpa's lucky day!
Jason and his grandfather meet up with Shadia, Lenore and Bradley in Daytona Beach and they party together. Jason keeps missing calls from Meredith, who petrifies him just by her name appearing on his phone. Jason is a corporate lawyer, who seems to be married to his job and not really interested in having a fraction of the fun his grandfather intends to have while they are in Florida.
Here's the thing; there are sporadic chuckles and even a full laugh or two throughout "Dirty Grandpa" and in the cinematic dumping ground month that is January that just might be enough. You know how the entire film will play out and the movie doesn't make the slightest attempt to surprise you.
Director Dan Mazer and screenwriter John Phillips try to get as much mileage out of the dirty grandpa joke as possible. There are times where you can see the film straining for a laugh that the entire movie looks desperate. De Niro is given curse words and crude things to say because the filmmakers think, "He's old, it will be funny if he says this." Not always. Jason is uptight ("That's a breach of golf etiquette!" he tells his grandpa during a golf game gone awry) and Dick is perverted. We are beaten over the head with these concepts.
All of the characters surrounding De Niro and Efron are given little to do. Plaza - who just made me sad "Parks and Recration" is no longer on - is a talented deadpan comedienne but is saddled with some of the more cringe-inducing lines of the film. Her strong affection for Dick leads her to say things like, "Party some babies into us!" Hough is the shrew, constantly calling Jason and wondering where he is. She spends the movie fretting over napkin colors and tie colors for Jason to wear to their rehearsal brunch.
"Dirty Grandpa" tries to shock you with the things De Niro is given to say. But with a title like "Dirty Grandpa," all of it is expected and never as clever as it hopes. But again, this is January, a known downtime at the movies. If you can get a few laughs out of a film during this month, it might be a small victory.