Good news for people who always wanted to see Robert De Niro resort to bottom-of-the-barrel dick jokes and homophobia in the name of entertainment: Dirty Grandpa is a real, feature-length movie that is in theaters nationwide. Unfortunately, rudimentary dirty jokes are all the film has to offer, so anyone hoping to find something more than a wide array of stupid one liners that will regurgitated incessantly by bro-culture meatheads until the next R-rated comedy hits theaters will be sorely disappointed.
The premise is simple and painfully familiar: With less than a week to go before he is set to wed his boss’ daughter, a move that should put him on the fast-track to professional success, uptight lawyer Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) agrees to take his recently widowed grandfather, Dick (Robert De Niro), to his vacation home in Florida. What Jason doesn’t know is that his grandfather has plans of his own, including a stop in Daytona Beach during the height of spring break, and before long Jason begins to question the choices he has made in life. When did he decide legal studies was more interesting than photography? How did he decide it was time to get married? How did he decide the girl he is due to wed was marriage material?
Any of these questions would make for great narrative fodder, but Dirty Grandpa cares very little for meaningful storytelling. Instead, the film plays like a series of increasingly outrageous gags, each lead by a foul-mouthed DeNiro who is either too drunk or horny to notice his career has reached a new low, that are all far too long for their own good. Dick wants nothing more than to get laid, and lucky for him he encounters a horny coed (Aubrey Plaza) not long after his journey with Jason begins who longs to sleep with someone like him. She and her friends are going to Daytona, which is why Dick and Jason go there as well, and in a way it’s his endless pursuit of meaningless sex with a beautiful 20-something that propels the majority of the plot.
No one walks into a movie called Dirty Grandpa expecting to see the next great comedy classic. After all, this is the kind of movie that sounds like it was sold based on the title and headline cast alone. Plot was an afterthought from day one, so to expect any real depth from the story would be a fool’s desire. All a movie like this needs to do in order to work is live up to its promise and offer one or two memorable, original ideas, but unfortunately that proves to be too great a task for filmmaker Dan Mazer and screenwriter John Philips. The dirty part is easy and abundant, with De Niro spewing something filthy with every third or fourth word out his mouth, but the originality is nowhere to be found. Scene after scene, offensive remark after offensive remark, there isn’t a single turn that hasn’t been traveled many times over in far better films or hurled like word vomit across a middle school classroom while two teens argue over whether or not the other is heterosexual.
What little saving grace the film has exists entirely within its cast. Efron, playing the straight man to De Niro’s antics, carries himself surprisingly well. We’ve all seen Efron play crazy before (both through his acting in Neighbors and his real-life decision to star in We Are Your Friends), so this role actually offers him the chance to do something new. He still finds an excuse to be shirtless for 20 minutes or more, of course, but at this point such news should not come as a surprise.
Supporting roles are kept at a minimum for most of the film, but there are memorable turns from Mindy Project funnyman Adam Pally and former The League star Jason Mantzoukas. The former is Efron’s stoner cousin and best man, while the latter is a surf shop-owning drug dealer who is friendly with local law enforcement. Both roles are paper thin and created solely to add to the filth of any given moment, but they’re brought to life incredibly well by the performers behind them, which in turn bolsters the hilarity of the feature overall.
The sole actress not depicted as either slutty or controlling is Zoey Deutch, whose presence in the film is rarely more than an excuse to reinforce Jason’s insecurities over his pending nuptials. Her character, Shadia, is a former classmate of Jason’s who knew him before his life in legal studies. She is the classic cinematic reminder of everything the protagonist once was and, possibly, should always be. Her own story takes a distant back seat to her personality and good looks, which leaves Deutch with very little to use when trying to decide how to deliver her performance, but even considering that she remains far and wide the most respected character in the film. She never acts out of line, she never allows herself to be taken advantage of and she somehow manages to make Jason uncomfortable with who he has become. She’s a flawless person whose relationships with Plaza’s scandalous character is never explained, but she’s presented convincingly thanks entirely to the talent of Deutch.
Impressive turns from minor players aside, there is simply not enough good to justify anyone paying to endure Dirty Grandpa. This film is simply not funny. It’s dirty, and that will never be questioned, but the movie never even comes close to being humorous. It’s an overlong slog through every perverted idea you can imagine, from masturbating geriatrics to pantomimed oral sex with a child, and it sullies the largely impressive career of its lead star for no reason other than the idiotic belief that there is no limit to the amount of dick jokes people are willing to endure. If I never see this film again it will be too soon, and I pray to whatever deity is willing to listen a sequel never exists. I don’t even want to consider the idea of Dirty Grandma, which surely will be discussed in some Hollywood circles if the film is a success. Just turn away and pretend you never saw this pitiful excuse for big screen storytelling advertised in the first place.