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In Theaters: DIRTY GRANDPA (2016)


(US - 2016)

Directed by Dan Mazer. Written by John Phillips. Cast: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Dermot Mulroney, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Julianne Hough, Jason Mantzoukas, Danny Glover, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Adam Pally, Brandon Mychal Smith, Jake Picking, Michael Hudson, Mo Collins, Henry Zebrowski. (R, 102 mins)

The worst thing to happen to Robert De Niro since prostate cancer, DIRTY GRANDPA is about as unwatchable as modern comedy can get, existing almost on the same plane of laziness, incompetence, and flat-out contempt as any atrocious Friedberg/Seltzer spoof. The film imagines itself some kind of edgy, "did they just go there?" envelope-pusher, but there's nothing here beyond the shock value of a living legend like De Niro working blue and saying some of the filthiest things ever heard in a mainstream movie. But "shock" doesn't mean "funny." Raunch humor can kill--in-their-prime Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow and AMERICAN PIE have shown that. And the great BAD SANTA (2003) expertly mixed raunchy shock with smart writing and funny performances. DIRTY GRANDPA skips the humor component, demonstrating absolutely no restraint as it guns it straight for the raunch and nothing but. As decreed in the Burgess Meredith Amendment set forth upon the release of 1993's GRUMPY OLD MEN, Hollywood seems to think there's nothing funnier than old people saying really nasty shit. After 102 minutes of watching De Niro--arguably the greatest actor of all time--jerk off; talk about donkey-punches, creampies, chugging horsecock, and Queen Latifah taking a shit in his mouth; call his grandson "Jack Dicklaus" and "Michelle Wies-in-my-mouth" while golfing; call his grandson's fiancee's pink car "a giant labia" and "a giant tampon"; stick his cock and balls in his grandson's face; make racist and homophobic cracks to a gay black man; harangue the same grandson for cockblocking him and calling him "Cocky McBlockerson"; and bellow ad nauseum that he wants to "fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck till my dick falls off!" while dropping more F-bombs than in all of his Scorsese films combined, you'll long for the tact and grace of Meredith cackling about "taking the skin boat to Tuna Town!" in GRUMPY OLD MEN. De Niro isn't so much a dirty grandpa as he is a geriatric 2 Live Crew.

Dick (De Niro) convinces his grandson to take him
 to Daytona Beach by making him an offer he can't
 refuse in DIRTY GRANDPA
It has a plot that's similar to the not-quite-as-godawful-but-close Robert Duvall vehicle A NIGHT IN OLD MEXICO. The day after the funeral of his wife of 40 years, who succumbed to a long battle with cancer, grieving Dick Kelly (De Niro) convinces his uptight, straight-arrow lawyer grandson Jason (Zak Efron) to take him from Atlanta to his vacation home in Boca Raton where he and his wife spent their summers. When Jason picks Dick up and catches him jerking off to porn ("You caught me takin' a #3!"), it's a harbinger of things to come. After 40 years of being a faithful husband and 15 years of celibacy due to his wife's lengthy illness, Dick needs to blow off some steam. Jason really wants no part of it, as he's got a big case at his dad's (Dermot Mulroney) law firm and he's getting married to Jewish bridezilla Meredith (Julianne Hough) in a week, but Dick nevertheless cajoles his square grandson into taking him to Daytona for spring break. Dick keeps getting on Jason about why he abandoned his passion for photography to join his dad's law firm, and why he's marrying a control-freak shrew like Meredith, but his real focus is getting laid, and after they run into a trio of spring breakers, Dick sees the perfect opportunity to achieve his dream of unprotected sex with a college girl. Pretending to be a professor, Dick catches the attention of hard-partying Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), who has a fantasy about screwing an elderly prof, wooing Dick with come-ons like "How about you knock your balls in my vagina?" and "I want you to tsunami all over my face!" and "I want you to eat me out and blow your last breath in my pussy." Simply by default of nothing else in the film being even remotely amusing, Plaza is the sole source of anything resembling actual comedy in DIRTY GRANDPA, but her only funny lines (like "I want you to tell me you watch Fox News!") are probably ad-libbed and, perhaps most tellingly, are the ones that aren't X-rated.

Dick (De Niro) asks "You talkin' to me?"
after Lenore tells him to tsunami on her face and
 blow his last breath in her pussy in DIRTY GRANDPA
Elsewhere, DIRTY GRANDPA is absolute misery. In the right hands, Jason accidentally smoking crack and being busted for pedophilia and threatened with prison rape and putting on semen-encrusted pants and Facetiming his Jewish fiancee and her Rabbi while unknowingly sporting a swastika of penises drawn on his forehead and having De Niro's stunt junk resting on his face might've been funny. The same goes for De Niro doing rap poses doing a karaoke version of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day." But in the hands of first-time screenwriter John Phillips (his next project is BAD SANTA 2, so scratch any hope for that one) and director Dan Mazer, a past Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator who helped write DA ALI G SHOW, BORAT, and BRUNO (after DIRTY GRANDPA, it's obvious who was carrying who in that partnership), nothing works and the entire purpose of the project seems to be how far down to the bottom De Niro will let them take him. Mazer's direction is an amateur-night abomination, lacking even a basic understanding of blocking and cutting, starting early on when Dick and Jason leave for their road trip and Dick cracks "Let's get in the giant labia you pulled up in." Mind you, Dick hasn't seen the car because he was too busy "taking a #3" in his man-cave when Jason walked in on him. And how does it make any sense that Jason, several years out of law school, would've been a photo lab partner of Lenore's friend Shadia (Zoey Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson and a potentially charming actress if she can find the right movie) in college? And Shadia, Lenore, and their gay black friend Bradley (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) are graduating from college in a week, but they're on spring break now?  Does Phillips know the concept of semesters? His script tries to get all maudlin and sappy at various points, with a completely out-of-nowhere about-face by Dick, who spends the first half of the film derisively mocking the stereotypically flamboyant Bradley only to turn into a beacon of progressive acceptance later on. The filmmakers also awkwardly mix the sentimental and the tasteless, as in a heartfelt speech Dick has about how much his wife meant to him, while tossing in as an aside "We tried anal once every five years." There's no consistency and a lot of points are sloppily thrown in--Jason dreamed of being a photographer for Time, which isn't really known for its photos (was Phillips thinking of Life, perhaps? Did De Niro care enough to clarify? Does Efron know what a magazine is?), and Dick was secretly a Special Forces badass who spent his career fighting terrorism, which explains how he's able to take on a quintet of guys 50 years younger than him in a fight. Attempts to humanize Dick amidst his scatological and gynecological insults and one-liners that would make old-school Andrew Dice Clay blush come off as forced and phony. BAD SANTA turned its misanthropic anti-hero around, but that film provided Billy Bob Thornton with a real character to play, with a real progression and arc, and surrounded him with ringers like late greats Bernie Mac and John Ritter. De Niro gets Efron, who's frankly in over his head in pretty much anything, and even gets to mimic his co-star's familiar facial expressions at one point, which might've been funny had he not already done it for the De Niro party in NEIGHBORS.

Dick (De Niro) isn't afraid to take on
some younger troublemakers in DIRTY GRANDPA
De Niro's career took an unexpected turn into comedy the late '90s and into the '00s with ANALYZE THIS and MEET THE PARENTS and both of their sequels. But in those, he was essentially parodying his own serious image. It's not that De Niro can't do comedy--after all, 1988's buddy action comedy MIDNIGHT RUN is a classic--but he needs well-written comedy, or at least a comedically-gifted co-star to bounce off of, like he had with Charles Grodin in MIDNIGHT RUN. It goes without saying that Efron is no Grodin, and while De Niro has nothing to work with here, it still no excuse for the revolting mess in which he's gotten himself. The two-time Oscar-winner has taken a lot of shit over the last decade and a half or so for taking easy gigs that were beneath him (FREELANCERS, THE BIG WEDDING, THE BAG MAN), with constant cries from fans that he's tarnishing his legacy. But there have been some excellent performances from this much-maligned period--the barely-seen STONE and BEING FLYNN and his Oscar-nominated turn in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK come to mind. I get that working actors have to work, and De Niro likes to stay busy. While I'm sure he enjoys the big paychecks as well, it's easy to see where he's coming from--how many 72-year-old actors are still getting leads in major movies these days?  We bag on De Niro but forget someone like Harrison Ford, who's been coasting and phoning it for years but that's all forgotten now that he's Han Solo again. Ford doesn't even mask his cynical disdain for what he does for a living, but you have to give De Niro some credit--he actually seems to be enjoying himself with DIRTY GRANDPA. He approaches the role with an enthusiastic gusto that gets increasingly desperate as the movie flop-sweats its way through one depressingly unfunny set piece after another. After some dubious career choices in recent years, De Niro has hit bottom and there's nowhere to go now but up, as DIRTY GRANDPA is an unequivocally soul-crushing endurance test of a comedy, easily the worst film he's done in a career now in its sixth decade. It's really hard to sufficiently convey just how incredibly devoid of laughs DIRTY GRANDPA is, but in the De Niro comedy canon, it's gotta rank dead last, with nothing in it nearly as hilarious as Travis Bickle's rescue of Iris in TAXI DRIVER or the Russian Roulette scenes in THE DEER HUNTER.

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