If you go into the new comedy Dirty Grandpa expecting the type of high-concept, low-brow humor we haven’t seen since the Farrelly Brothers’ heyday, then at least you’ll know what to expect going in. This one pairs Robert De Niro with the actor who did a surprisingly good De Niro impression in Neighbors, former teen heartthrob Zac Efron.
Efron plays Jason Kelly, a successful upper class lawyer just one week away from marrying his boss’ daughter, Meredith (Julianne Hough), which will probably get him a partnership at the firm. When his grandmother passes away, Jason is urged to drive his grandfather Dick (De Niro) down to Florida where he can be taken care of. That task proves harder than expected when Jason realizes Dick has turned into a horny, foul-mothed monster who has his own plans for their road trip.
When Jason goes to pick up his grandfather (in his fiancé’s pink mini-Cooper, no less) he walks in on him masturbating (“doing a #3”) and that’s about the level of humor you should come to expect for the rest of this movie.
Now that Dick’s wife has died, he just wants to get out there and get laid, which wasn’t in Jason’s original game plan, so they end up going to spring break at Daytona Beach where Jason reunites with college classmate Sadia (Zoey Deutch), who has become the total opposite of Jason, a laidback hippy photographer. As they say, opposites attract and it’s pretty obvious she’s a better match for Jason than Meredith.
In order to distract his party-pooping grandson so that he can have his own fun, Dick gets Jason so drunk and high he ends up on the beach naked after a night of drunken antics that will be revealed later via a plot device stolen directly from The Hangover.
It’s almost as if Robert De Niro has simply just given up. There was a time when his status as a comedy star had been elevated by beloved films like Meet the Parents and Analyze That, but then weak half-hearted sequels killed any good karma those earlier movies introduced. Things seemed to be improving with De Niro’s role in last year’s The Intern, which was helped by having him play a much more normal person. And then he comes back at us with this. Most of Dick’s schtick involves saying and doing the most obnoxious and inappropriate things possible, and somehow director Dan Mazer, a long-time Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator, manages to convince De Niro to do all of it.
Efron’s female fans from his days as a High School Musical star may appreciate the amount of time he spends semi-clad, and their boyfriends might enjoy seeing him humiliated at every turn, but there isn’t much beyond that.
The pairing isn’t the problem as they’re fairly well-matched, it’s just that the material seems below both of them.
One of the film’s few saving graces is Jason Mantzoukas (The League) as Pam, the proprietor of a tourist gift shop that acts as a front for his drug dealing ventures. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this flamboyant character compared to others he’s played, but he always brings a bit of that zany comic relief necessary when the De Niro/Efron antics get to be too much.
An odder decision is introducing Jason’s cousin Nick, played by Adam Pally from Happy Endings, during the opening funeral. He plays a similar character as Mantzoukas, and then we don’t see him again until the very end of the movie. What a waste.
Possibly the most painful part of watching Dirty Grandpa though is seeing the usually-excellent Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec) being relegated to a slutty coed sexpot who is constantly hitting on De Niro in order to fulfill some inane checklist she has. There’s absolutely nothing sexy or attractive about what Plaza is doing in this movie, and it’s the film’s biggest shame.
Maybe Dirty Grandpa wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that partway through the last act you realize that the plot for this movie is stolen directly from the far superior Sideways. Efron eventually returns to Georgia for his wedding in hopes his fiancé hasn’t learned about his dalliances—she has—only to realize maybe he’d be better off leading a more down-to-earth life with Sadia. It’s something the audience figured out an hour ago.
There are some laughs to be had in Dirty Grandpa if you’re 13-years-old or have a sense of humor that hasn’t developed far beyond that. If that’s you, then enjoy!