THE WAR WITH GRANDPA

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Tim Hill

Stars: Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, Laura Marano, Poppy Gagnon, Isaac Kragten, Juliocesar Chavez, T J McGibbon, Faison Love.

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Comedy has never really been Robert De Niro’s forte, although in recent years the Oscar winning actor has been stuck in a number of lame and laboured comedies (and 2016’s appalling Dirty Grandpa has to be the absolute nadir of his stellar career). Here he appears in The War With Grandpa, another so-so comedy which seems deliberately aimed at younger audiences, who may appreciate its low-level comedic violence, slapstick humour and physical pratfalls.

De Niro plays Ed, who has been struggling to adjust to life alone following the death of his wife. Following an incident at the local supermarket which leaves him bruised and battered, his concerned daughter Sally (Uma Thurman, from Pulp Fiction, etc) decides that he is no longer safe alone. She thinks it is time that he comes and lives with her and her family in her home. Her good natured but essentially clueless husband Arthur (Rob Riggle) accepts the decision while her three children are also enthusiastic about having grandpa around the house. The three children are teenaged daughter Mia (Laura Marano), 12-year-old Peter (Oakes Fegley, from Pete’s Dragon, etc) and cute youngest daughter Jennifer (Poppy Gagnon). But Peter is less enthused when he learns that he has to give up his bedroom for Ed. Peter is relegated to the dusty old attic.

Urged on by his school friends Steve (Isaac Kragten), Billy (Juliocesar Chavez) and Emma (T.J. McGibbon), Peter is encouraged to fight for his room, and he declares war on Ed in a written note. Ed plays along thinking it will be innocent fun and lays out the rules of engagement. But after the first shots fired by Peter (which include replacing shaving cream with quick setting foam, putting a snake in Ed’s bed, and so on) Ed is urged by his senior citizen friends Jerry (Christopher Walken) and Danny (Cheech Marin) to fight back. And as hostilities escalate the rest of the family, especially Sally, become collateral damage in the war.

I was expecting plenty of the Home Alone style comic violence, but the film fails to really deliver in this department. Given its family friendly rating, much of the comedic violence and toilet humour is downplayed here. The whole thing culminates with a trampoline dodgeball showdown.  

This is such a thin premise around which to build a 90-minute comedy and unfortunately the uninspired script from writers Tom J Astle and Matt Ember (Get Smart, etc) cannot sustain the material for that length. The film is based on the award winning YA novel written by Robert Kimmel Smith and published in 1984, and deals with some interesting themes such as the generation gap, aging, family ties and bullying. However, Peter’s intentions here come across as more mean-spirited than in the original novel. But in the end a couple of positive messages resonate with audiences.

The director is Tim Hill, who is better known for his work on family friendly animated fare like Alvin And The Chipmunks, etc, and while his handling of the set pieces is competent enough his pacing is uneven and there are times when the film slows to a crawl. But the genuine laughs are far and few between. As the end credits play out we get to see some unamusing outtakes and a tired looking cast and crew singalong.

De Niro brings his usual intensity to his role here, but his shtick as a grumpy old man has become too familiar through films like Meet The Parents, etc. Meanwhile Walken hams it as another grouchy old man desperately trying to be hip. This is the first time that De Niro and Walken have shared the screen since the Oscar winning Vietnam era war drama The Deerhunter forty years earlier, but they deserved better for their cinematic reunion. Thurman has a few moments as the mother caught in the middle of it all, and newcomer Gagnon is excessively cute. Jane Seymour (tv’s Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman) is largely wasted as Diane, who works at a superstore and who becomes a love interest for the curmudgeonly Ed, softening his rough edges.

Apparently, the film was completed a couple of years ago, but its release has been delayed due to complications with the collapse of the Weinstein Company and then by the closure of cinemas due to the pandemic. The War With Grandpa is moderately diverting at best.

★★☆

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