The War With Grandpa
2020, PG, 94 min. Directed by Tim Hill. Starring Robert De Niro, Oakes Fegley, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, Laura Marano.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 9, 2020
The intergenerational pranksters in this family comedy based on Robert Kimmel Smith’s award-winning book wage a turf war over a bedroom, laying tit-for-tat traps for each other in a bid for Hallmark household supremacy. You could winkingly call them domestic terrorists, but that might intimate this zingless movie is more interesting than it is.
Once again in grampster mode – remember his respectively uptight and lecherous grandads in the embarrassing Little Fockers and atrocious Dirty Grandpa? – De Niro significantly softens here as a recently widowed septuagenarian suffering the undignified slings and arrows of old age, cluelessly driving around without a license (revoked) and helplessly flailing at the grocery store self-checkout. When Ed’s concerned daughter (Thurman) demands that he move in with her family for his own well-being, the grumpy old man displaces his sixth-grader grandson Peter from his tween cave and into the attic, prompting the latter to formally declare war on the paterfamilias to rightfully regain his room. Pratfalls inevitably ensue. Foam sealant cans are disguised as shaving cream (De Niro as Papa Smurf!). Jordan tennis shoes are glue gun-decorated in pink. Golf clubs are rigged to dismantle, and so on. The ho-hum practical jokes the two inflict upon the other can be described as Home Alone lite: No concussion-inducing swinging paint cans or burn-inducing doorknobs inspired by Looney Tunes violence here. Which, of course, takes all the fun out of it.
Arguably, De Niro gives the blandest performance of his career in a movie better suited for the Disney streaming service, rather than for what passes as a theatrical release today. Then again, there’s little opportunity for anyone to bite into any juicy comic or dramatic meat here, except for (perhaps) the throwaway homily about the futility of war that is followed by an odd ending suggesting the truce between Ed and Peter is only temporary. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t infantilize Ed and his two running buddies played by Walken and Marin too much, falling just short of lovable old coot Going In Style camaraderie. Walken’s line readings, however, have only gotten weirder with age. Even weirder? Ed’s inadvertent exposure of his unseen nether regions to his son-in-law (Riggle) not once, but twice, during the movie. Good luck in explaining the humor in that to the kids.