By Christian DiMartino
When the title of a movie elicits an immediate groan, chances are the film will live up to it. The War With Grandpa is such a movie, and then some.
Last year, Robert DeNiro starred in two of the year’s best films, The Irishman and Joker. Now he is in… this, proving that 2020 has really been unkind to just about everyone. DeNiro is obviously a legend, and here is a guy who really can act and is also more than capable of being funny, but his recent comedies would appear to prove otherwise. His performance here isn’t even all that bad (though there is a line delivery or two that screams, “I’m here for the money!”), but the material is beneath him. It’s beneath the whole cast, really, seeing as they’re all bafflingly overqualified.
The War With Grandpa is wrong from the start. The film makes the grave mistake of mining humor from a situation that isn’t funny- it mostly just comes across as whiny and mean spirited, and sure kids probably won’t know the difference. But parents are more than likely going to raise their eyebrows from the start… and they will stay raised, from beginning to end.
The film is based on a children’s book from decades ago. A book I am unfamiliar with but again maybe this material would work as a children’s book. Written in crayon. Anyways, DeNiro plays a cute elderly fella named Ed, who after a mishap at a grocery store, is urged by his daughter Sally (played by… Uma Thurman?) to move in with her family. I am not joking when I say that this conversation consists of the cliche “I miss mom/ I miss her too/ let’s miss her together” conversation. And not only is it cliche, but it comes from out of nowhere, and is never to be addressed again.
Anyways, Ed moves in, and in exchange, his young grandson Peter (Oakes Fegley) is forced into moving into the attic, so then papa Ed can take his room. Seeing as Peter is a whiny brat, he declares, you guessed it, a war with his grandpa. Said war consists of the following: instead of applying shaving cream, Ed applies a sealant cream that sticks to his face; a jar of marbles that belonged to Ed’s late wife is glued to the table, and when attempting to lift it, the jar shatters, and Ed trips all over the marbles; the hinges of Ed’s bedroom door are removed, causing him to fall on top of it.
Now, I’m not a particularly sensitive person, and I can take a joke, but the joke of The War With Grandpa isn’t a funny one because DeNiro’s Ed doesn’t deserve the torture he receives. Home Alone isn’t a great movie, but its laughs and the traps are earned because Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci are criminals trying to murder a child. With this film, it’s basically a little boy torturing the elderly because of a bedroom. Ha.
Anyways, among the torture, Ed decides to also join in the war, and the pranks. He even invites his friends to help torture the… child. His friends are played by… Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin? He also receives the help from a fellow love interest, a department store worker played by… Jane Seymour (time has been quite kind to Seymour, who looks radiant at 69 years old). Okay okay, what the hell are these people doing here? I mean, seriously. A comedy this disposable might usually have one person of talent, but this film is filled to the brim. It’s baffling.
It’s also a particularly baffling sight to witness DeNiro, Walken, Marin and Seymour playing a game of dodgeball at a trampoline park with a group of children. Did everyone involved actually enjoy this material, or did they do it because, well, moolah? I lean towards the latter.
There are other children in the household too. One is an older teenage sister, and there’s a weird subplot involving her boyfriend that is so out of place, they neglect to include it until the final 20 minutes, which… is bonkers, because of the other child in the household. She’s a little girl and her character trait is that she loves Christmas. I am not kidding, that’s all she gets in terms of personality. Christmas. The climax of the film is set at an extravagant Christmas birthday party for her, and the events that unfold at this Christmas birthday party are more ridiculous then the idea of a climax at a Christmas birthday party. By this point, the film about gives up, and things just start happening, no matter how absurd (side note: if anyone wants to organize a Christmas birthday party for me, you’d really be on my good side). Even DeNiro, who really wasn’t too abysmal up to this point, gives off the impression that he knows he doesn’t belong here.
This is a family comedy, so perhaps judging it based off of logic isn’t fair. But it’s also really, truly unfunny. That is, except for moments that are so nutty and awful, the resistance to laugh was about impossible. The War With Grandpa may get the job done for some. For me, it’s a hot mess. But it’s also a hot mess that, believe it or not, beat Tenet at the United States box office. Just so you know, you people let this happen.