CAST: Robert De Niro, Oakes Fegley, Christopher Walken, Uma Thurman, Jane Seymour, Rob Riggle, Laura Marano, Cheech Marin, Faizon Love
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins
BASICALLY…: When he is forced to vacate his bedroom for his grandfather (De Niro), a young boy (Fegley) declares war…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
In a normal year, a low-rent family comedy like The War With Grandpa wouldn’t have even made it into the top five at the box office, let alone coming in hot at #1. 2020 was, of course, not a normal year, and in a period with very few US box office champions crowding the schedules, the long-delayed film – made in 2017, and was until recently hanging about in release-date limbo – managed to dethrone Christopher Nolan’s Tenet from the top spot after six weeks, and hold it for an entire fortnight.
I cannot imagine being a movie-goer in the United States, during a raging pandemic, going to one of the few cinemas that have remained open, and seeing on the billboard that The War With Grandpa, a painfully unfunny and utterly loathsome excuse for a comedy of any kind, is one of the only few other options playing on the big screen that wasn’t Tenet, because that must have been a sad, sad sight to bear.
Thankfully, us Brits don’t have to go through the same experience, since it’s gone directly to Amazon Prime Video over here, so mercifully there’s now zero chance of anyone in the UK seeing this on the big screen. That doesn’t mean, though, that we’re free from ever experiencing it, and unfortunately every agonising second is right there for us to get through all the same.
In the film, 12-year-old Peter (Oakes Fegley), the world’s whiniest and entitled little brat, is pissed because he’s been forced to vacate his bedroom and move up into the attic, so that his aging grandfather Ed (Robert De Niro) can move in with his family. Because of this, and only this, Peter declares war against grandpa Ed, which mainly consists of pranks that get more and more elaborate but also dangerous as the battle wages on.
First of all, this entire “war” scenario seems like something that can be easily solved within minutes. At first, it’s understandable why Peter is annoyed at having to move into a leaky, rat-infested attic, but those problems are very easily fixed, and yet the boy is still, for some reason, desperate to get his smaller, more boring room back instead of the larger, pretty cool loft he now lives in. Beyond that, this whole thing isn’t even the grandpa’s fault; Ed makes it very clear that he does not really want to be living in this house to begin with, and is only doing so at the insistence of his daughter Sally (played by an awful Uma Thurman who constantly mugs to the camera and overperforms the most basic of dialogue and gestures), so the most logical step would have been for grandpa and grandson to team up in order to find a way to get Ed back to the home he built from the ground up. Unfortunately, if that were even an option for these characters to take, we wouldn’t have a movie, and so it’s nothing more than a series of groan-worthy slapstick gags and dangerous pratfalls because this entitled little brat won’t suck it up for his widowed grandfather.
Because of that, you’re siding far more with De Niro than this kid, not just because he’s Robert De Niro powering his way through yet another terrible family comedy, but because he’s the way more civilised one whose pranks against his grandson are inoffensive and humane at best, whereas this alarmingly psychotic young man goes so far as to put a snake in his grandfather’s bed, replace his shaving cream with foam sealant, and rig a chair with an explosive airbag like it’s Bad Neighbours all of a sudden. The difference is, that was in an adult-oriented comedy where grown men did that to other grown men, whereas here it’s a 12-year-old boy doing these things to his frail, vulnerable grandfather, which even for a juvenile family comedy seems pretty cruel on the boy’s part. It makes you badly want to see De Niro finally get the nerve to slap his unlikeable grandson up the back of his head, because this kid is causing great harm to his elderly relative who, again, is not the one who’s truly at fault, which makes any attempt on the film’s part to bond the two characters feel extremely uncomfortable given the raucous and psychotic behaviour that this kid had displayed beforehand.
Beyond its extremely misguided script, which relies heavily on awkward and overlong running gags as well as extraordinarily thin characterisations, while I can’t say that it’s a horribly-made movie, it is definitely a very bland-looking one. It should be of little surprise that not only is director Tim Hill behind a number of similarly juvenile family films like Hop, Max Keeble’s Big Move and the first Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, but that writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember predominantly come from sitcom backgrounds, having previously worked on shows like Coach and Bless This House. Together, their stale sense of humour and unambitious style give this low-stakes movie the look of a dated sitcom from the late 90s to the early 2000s, with jokes that land about as well as some of Chuck Lorre’s worst material. There is very little sincerity on display in this filmmaking as well as most of the performances – again, I cannot stress enough that Uma Thurman, a great actress in her own right, is absolutely awful in this movie – with one of the very few bright spots being the appearance of Christopher Walken in a small supporting role, at his most Christopher Walken-iest which includes him dressing up in a hoodie and bling at one point, in a sight so bizarre you have no choice but to chortle.
I am very tempted to give this my second-ever F-grade, because it truly is a horrendously misjudged and woefully unfunny movie that’s very difficult to sit through, but I’ll bump it up one grade only because, at the very least, there is a twisted thought in my head that someone will see this, hate it even more than I did, and unironically declare war against everyone who worked on it – and that gives me more laughter and satisfaction than anything in the actual movie.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The War With Grandpa is an awful, woefully misguided family comedy filled with unlikeable characters and painfully unfunny slapstick that grows disturbingly more dangerous as it goes along, mixed in with some exceptionally bland filmmaking and good actors giving some truly awful performances that are almost enough to declare war over.