The thought of a Robert De Niro-Zac Efron team up appeared a curious one; a collision of two polar opposites who have no right whatsoever of coming together, yet it’s difficult not to be intrigued at the prospect. Though in the case of this highly unconventional Grandfather-Grandson foul-mouthed road trip spectacle helmed by Dan Mazer (I Give It a Year), it will leave you never able to look at The Deer Hunter star quite the same way again.
Dick’s (De Niro) just buried his dearly beloved wife of 40 years and he wants to have some fun. The guy’s not had sex in 15 years for crying out loud! In steps his soon-to-be-married stuffy lawyer of a Grandson Jason (played by an often shirtless Efron), who unwittingly agrees to drive his Grandpa down to Florida where he plans to get back on the ol’ horse. On their travels, the odd couple bump into Aubrey Plaza’s Lenore – a 20-something who eyes Dick as the final piece of her kinky sex trinity – and Jason’s former classmate Shadia (Zoey Deutch), who both become tangled in this rather odd sex, drugs and booze fuelled Grandfather-Grandson trip.
Witnessing someone of the ilk of Robert De Niro turn into a perverted, homophobic old man in the name of grotesque ‘comedy’ hurts my very soul. A two time Oscar winner jerking off (or as his character puts it, doing a ”number 3”) to porn is a sight that I may never, ever be able to erase. “Cunts”, “butt fucking” and “dildos” appear to be the extent of the aptly named Dick’s vocabulary as he runs around students trying to get laid.
We can talk about actors, particularly those of De Niro’s stature, pushing ‘boundaries’ and going a little left-field, but Dirty Grandpa isn’t even in this stratosphere. Efron, though maybe nothing this monstrous, has done similar before; shirt offs, eye-rolling life changing moments (aka That Awkward Moment), yada yada yada. Yet for our Bob, who recently charmed our knitted socks off in Nancy Meyer’s so-so alternative buddy comedy The Intern, this was 87 (a wild estimate) genital jokes too many.
Comedy’s a genre where its shortfalls can be forgiven if the overriding gag is funny. Relying on the shock factor to make us laugh, but instead killing us inside, slowly and painfully – without intelligence or subtlety – every cock/vagina/sex toy gag at a time, Mazer’s film’s step-by-step predictableness and just general structural messiness makes Dirty Grandpa even more excruciating. An oh-so-obvious sham marriage (Julianne Hough is a stuck up cow as Efron’s soon-to-be wife), drug dealing escapades and new loves are just underlying sidesteps trying to give this a backbone it can never hope to have, with a moral compass (he’s a war vet, so he’s a hero really…) which points directly to movie hell.