Audience is loser in ‘War with Grandpa’
Don’t let the cast fool you, “The War with Grandpa” is a movie that belongs on the Disney Channel, not in theaters.
It’s one of those kid comedies in which someone — multiple someones — will end up covered in food and someone else will get hit in the crotch. It’s the kind of movie that might be funny at 8 years old and that a parent will tolerate while their child laughs.
But filling the cast with Oscar winners like Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken as well as Quentin Tarantino muse Uma Thurman doesn’t make it better; it just makes it a little more depressing.
Based on many of his choices this century, De Niro would rather work (and get paid) than sit by the phone waiting for Martin Scorsese to call with his next epic. But it’s telling how bleak things are for a 50-year-old woman in Hollywood if this was Thurman’s best option.
De Niro plays Ed, a widower who is forced to move in with his daughter’s family after a couple of mishaps (a fight with a Walmart greeter, a car accident). His grandson Peter (Oakes Fegley) is told to vacate his bedroom — and it’s a great, ridiculously large bedroom — to make room for grandpa, and he is exiled to the attic.
This aggression will not stand and Peter declares war on pops.
The two proceed to pull an increasingly elaborate series of destructive pranks on one another. Peter wakes up grandpa with loud rap music in the middle of the night and tampers with with grandpa’s jar filled with prized marbles; Ed removes all the screws from Peter’s furniture and destroys Peter’s prized Air Jordans.
Their friends also get pulled into the battle, which leads to a scene in which De Niro, Walken, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour are battling four middle-school kids in a four-on-four dodgeball fight that takes place in a giant bounce house / trampoline. The scene doesn’t end with someone breaking hip, which is an indication of how unrealistic everything is.
Despite signs of detente between the warring family members, things get really ugly at the Christmas-themed birthday party for Peter’s younger sister (Poppy Gagnon).
Based on a novel by Robert Kimmel Smith, “War” actually tries to be about something more than slapstick mayhem. An anti-war message is awkwardly shoe-horned around the buffoonery, but it falls flat among scenes with characters faceplanting into cakes and and being hurled skyward by exploding chairs.
De Niro may be picking up a paycheck, but he doesn’t phone it in. He makes the whole thing seem slightly less ridiculous that it really is. Thurman seems less comfortable with the broad comedy and looks out of her element having to react to a large snake in her car or doing a spit-take after sipping hot-sauce-laced coffee. Her one good scene is a father-daughter moment with De Niro, in which he expresses regret about the two years he lost with his daughter because he thought her husband (Rob Riggle) wasn’t good enough for her.
Riggle spends the entire movie with a bemused look on his face, like he’s trying to suppress a grin because, “I can’t believe I’m in a movie with Robert De Niro!!!”
As for me, I kept wishing De Niro would turn into one of his other characters, maybe Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver” or James Conway from “GoodFellas,” and really declare war on this bratty kid.