“There were a lot of jokes that landed with a thud

by Steve Pulaski

Dirty Grandpa is the latest in the line of vulgarian comedies that tries to succeed off of a cheap formula. The formula is that it’s so vulgar, tasteless, and irreverent that, eventually, by chance or by fate, it will get a laugh out of its audience. It may only be one, it may only be two, it may be only every ten minutes, or even more sporadic and inconsistent than that, but it will eventually get a laugh or two out of you. The problem is the entirety of those laughs often amount to about a minute or two of actual comedy, and in this case, enduring the remaining ninety-six minutes is quite an arduous task for such a feeble reward even a monk would pass up.

With that being said, I counted two hearty laughs in Dirty Grandpa, and several sporadic chuckles from Jason Mantzoukas’s rowdy and zealous performance as a local small-business owner/drug dealer in the film. That latter fact already sends up quite a few read flags, as this is a comedy where the emphasis rests on the age-gap and the talent of the two lead performers, Robert De Niro and Zac Efron respectively. While the two men exercise what seems to be a lack of boundaries and restrictions on what they’ll allow themselves to be put through in this film, none of this particularly helps their credibility and further distracts both from the wealth of more interesting roles they could be taking.

Dirty Grandpa
Directed by
Dan Mazer
Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch
Release Date
22 January 2016
Steve’s Grade: D

The film revolves around Jason Kelly (Zac Efron), a lawyer who is looking to wed his longtime fiancee in a little over a week. After the death of his grandmother, Jason’s grandfather Dick Kelly (Robert De Niro) asks if he could potentially drive him to see his old Army buddy and have some grandfather/grandson bonding. Despite the time-crunch, and knowing how distant his grandfather and father are, Jason takes him up on his offer and drives him in his fiancee’s pink car, which Dick refers to as a mobile labia.

It only gets better. While eating at a diner, Jason runs into Shadia (Zoey Deutch), an old friend of his, who is eating lunch with her friend Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), an unapologetically crass woman who is looking to complete her sex trifecta of having sex with a freshman in college, an alum, and a professor. Dick, in turn, comes to her rescue by claiming to be a professor and promising to show her a wild time. The gang winds up enduring a ribald weekend involving drinks, sex, and drugs, most of the latter supplied by the aformentioned Mantzoukas’s Pam character, who exercises maximum comic potential in every scene. The way he steals the attention away from the two leading performances is very similar to how Bobby Moynihan’s prankster Alex character did in last month’s Sisters.

The problem is Dirty Grandpa is so reliant on the repeated use of four-letter words that it forgets that the characters, the context, and the conversational wit of the circumstance is the reason why most of us laugh. It’s not the repetition as much as it is the characters that we like and admire getting repeatedly thrust into circumstances they do not want to be in. Director Dan Mazer and screenwriter John M. Philips cruelly miss this point, and instead deliver a comedy hellbent on giving us maximum antics and minimum laughter, as a result.

Dirty Grandpa, while never boring and admittedly having the ability to squeeze us for one or two good laughs, doesn’t understand the first thing about the functions of comedy, and feels like a gang of sugar-rushed, prepubescent children wrote the screenplay and compiled it with a list of words their parents explicitly told them they couldn’t say. It’s a waste of time for everyone involved, particularly Efron and Plaza, who have so much potential that’s going to waste in this vacuum of ridiculous and desperately unfunny comedies. Both actors have already paid their dues forward with lackluster comedies, Efron with That Awkward Moment and Plaza with The To-Do List, so their choice to do this film is questionable. As for De Niro, I think the idea that “he could do worse” or “he has given up” stops hear. There were a lot of jokes that landed with a thud in this film, but the loudest was De Niro metaphorically hitting the bottom of the barrel, especially coming off of the wonderful Intern.