Movie Review: “Dirty Grandpa”

Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Jason Mantzoukas
Dan Mazer

Dan Mazer cut his teeth as a writer on “Da Ali G Show” and other Sacha Baron Cohen projects like “Borat” and “Brüno,” so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut relies just as heavily on that brand of inappropriate comedy. Though “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t quite as nuanced as some of Cohen’s work, it has such a laissez faire attitude that you have to admire just how far it pushes the limit of what you can get away with in a studio comedy. The movie feels like it’s trying a little too hard at times, but thanks to some committed performances from Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t nearly as unpleasant as its material warrants.

Efron stars as Jason Kelly, an uptight corporate lawyer who has allowed his father (Dermot Mulroney) to control his life ever since college, including the arrangement of his upcoming marriage to the beautiful but bossy Meredith (Julianne Hough). When Jason’s grandmother dies from cancer and his grandpa Dick (De Niro), whom he used to be close with as a kid, needs someone to drive him to his Florida vacation home as part of an annual tradition, Jason grudgingly volunteers. But as he soon discovers, Dick has ulterior motives for their road trip – namely, to get laid – and persuades Jason to take a detour through Daytona Beach to soak up the spring break festivities after they bump into one of his former classmates (Zoey Deutch) and her rowdy friends (Aubrey Plaza and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) along the way.

Robert De Niro has proven himself quite adept at comedy over the years, but he’s almost always played the straight man, which is what makes “Dirty Grandpa” an interesting choice for the actor, because it allows him to really let loose in ways that audiences have never seen before. Though there’s something wrong about watching a screen legend like De Niro acting so raunchy (his character’s many indiscretions include sticking his thumb up Efron’s butt, miming jerking off and swearing like a sailor), it’s also part of the film’s strange appeal. It would all be quite embarrassing if De Niro and Efron didn’t appear to be having such a good time, but the two actors form a great team, elevating the juvenile material just enough to earn a few chuckles.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that “Dirty Grandpa” is an incredibly stupid movie fueled by a never-ending stream of bad language, insults and frat humor, most of which come from De Niro’s titular character. But here’s the thing: there isn’t any indication that Dick is a foul-mouthed pervert when we first meet him, so the sudden change in personality seems a bit drastic, especially as more of his “true self” is revealed; it’s shocking for the sake of shock value. John Philips’s lazy and formulaic script is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, while the supporting cast (particularly Plaza as the horny coed trying to have sex with Dick as part of a self-imposed challenge) is mostly wasted. The film progressively gets worse the lower it sinks, and yet despite its indefensible badness, “Dirty Grandpa” is still marginally entertaining, if only because De Niro makes it so.