Look, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic that has wrecked the entire movie industry. The world needs entertainment, and perhaps in this depleted landscape The War with Grandpa, a harmless but truly awful prank comedy, can find an audience in need of a distraction for 90-minutes. But even under these circumstances, this is a film that would make you feel pretty bad for Robert De Niro if he hadn’t already traded in his legendary cred long ago. Hey, the guy can do what he wants. He’s earned it.
The War with Grandpa is directed by Tim Hill, best known for prank comedies involving talking animals: Alvin & the Chipmunks and Hop. The same formula exists, however, except instead of an anthropomorphic rodent or bunny, we have a human kid. The title says it all. De Niro plays Ed, a grumpy old man who takes out his anger on poor grocery store clerks, who can no longer drive safely, and refuses to move to an assisted living facility. He values his independence, which makes moving in with his concerned daughter Sally (Uma Thurman, far from The Bride) and her family a tough pill to swallow.
Ed’s arrival forces Sally’s son Peter (Oakes Fegley) to move into the bat and mouse-infested attic, and the kid ain’t having it. Encouraged by his school buddies, and perhaps seeking some outlet for all the bullying he takes from bigger kids, Peter escalates a war with Ed in order to force the old guy out. It is what it is. This is a film that gets laughs out of watching De Niro fall from the roof, his pants constantly dropping to expose his penis to Rob Riggle as Sally’s husband. The war is tame enough for kids to enjoy without parents getting bent out of shape. Ed mucks around with the stuff in Peter’s room, while Peter sabotages Ed’s shaving creme. Ho ho ho. But when Ed DARES to graffiti Peter’s cherished Air Jordans, all bets are off.
Okay, on that one I can sympathize. Finish the old bastard!!
This being an all-ages family flick, confrontations are sprinkled with life lessons and attempts by Ed to forge a peace with his grandson. A heavy emphasis is placed on the sacrifices family must make for one another, but Ed and Peter are too busy being selfish to heed their own advice before it’s too late. The story, what there is of one, runs thin pretty quick. At least De Niro is enjoying himself, surrounded by a cast of veterans that includes Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Walken who all seem to know they’re too good for this. A highlight has the aging crew in a dodgeball match against the tweeny-boppers, but this is still a bunch of senior citizens and kids getting smacked around by a ball so the bar is hella low.
The War with Grandpa is actually based on a novel by Robert Kimmel Smith, an accomplished author who died earlier this year. Perhaps fans of the novel will notice nuances the rest of us aren’t looking for, but this is a movie that demands little and offers less.