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Robert De Niro hits a dead end with ‘Dirty Grandpa’


/ Courtesy of Bill Block |

Robert De Niro and Zac Efron battle it out in "Dirty Grandpa," a raunchy comedy about a grandson and grandfather who take a road trip together to Daytona Beach.

Film: “Dirty Grandpa”

Release Date: Jan. 22

Studio: Lionsgate

Grade: C

Starring Robert De Niro and Zac Efron as a grandfather-grandson team, “Dirty Grandpa” is a raunchy spring-break flick that follows a single-mindedly sex-crazed senior citizen and his recently-engaged grandson on a debauched trip to Daytona Beach.

While the movie elicits some laughs, its predictability, plot-holes and expletive-laced script leaves many critics and moviegoers alike with the feeling that they are watching the talent of prestigious actors go to waste.

The audience meets Richard “Dick” Kelly (De Niro) at his late wife’s funeral, where he reconnects with his once free-spirited grandson Jason Kelly (Efron), who has abandoned his passion for photography to become an uptight corporate lawyer for his father’s firm. In spite of his fast-approaching marriage to controlling fiancée Meredith (Julianne Hough), Jason’s grandfather convinces him to drive him from Atlanta to his apartment in Boca Raton.

This turns out to be a ruse by Dick to recruit his hunk of a grandson as a wingman as he tries to court drunk college girls on spring break in Daytona Beach. We also learn that the trip is part of Dick’s scheme to make his grandson re-evaluate his engagement to the nitpicky Meredith. While traveling, the duo runs into Jason’s former classmate Shadia (Zoe Deutch) and her willing coed Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), who takes an interest in Dick’s older character.

Upon arrival to Daytona Beach, many things go wrong for Jason and Dick. Jason ends up behind bars after accidentally taking Xanax and smoking crack at a college party, and Dick can’t find the right moment to pursue Lenore, who has an apparent fetish for older men. Predictably, Jason falls in love with the free spirited Shadia while hesitating to tell her about his fiancée back in Atlanta, and Dick adopts extreme means to finally have sex with Lenore.

There are a few flaws in the plot that stuck out like a sore thumb. If Jason and Shadia had class together freshman year, it seems implausible that Shadia is still in college while Jason has completed law school and has a real job, how could she possibly still be in college? Also, Jason’s compliance with Kelly’s plan seems inconsistent with the stressful reality of wedding planning.

De Niro is a legend. From “Goodfellas” to “Taxi Driver” and “The Godfather,” he has racked up an enormous amount of awards and recognition. In recent films such as “The Intern” (2015), De Niro has connected with a younger audience to try and gain some newfound recognition among millennials. It’s completely understandable for an accomplished actor to have fun later in his career. Yet, it’s hard not to feel that the “Dirty Grandpa” is a slight stain on the Oscar winner’s reputation.

Critics have been relentless with harsh comments about De Niro’s rambunctious character, whose vocabulary seems to consist almost solely of vulgarities. While teenagers are likely to find “Dirty Grandpa” funny, an overabundance of f-bombs and other obscenities might spoil the movie for adult audiences.

For Efron, who got his start from “High School Musical,” his first and most recent movie are closely tied. In both films he finds himself caught between pursuing an inner passion and a controlling paternal figure. When he meets the right girl, he sings or flexes his way to a realization that he has to think for himself and choose his own path. Among the film’s many lowlights, Efron has been praised as “The one actor who emerges from this disaster intact,” according to Newsday’s Rafer Guzmán.

This movie is great if you’re looking for a raunchy comedy. While the plot is predictable and certainly won’t get you thinking like a Tarantino movie, the unapologetic excesses of partying, nudity and swearing should attract its younger target audience.

Critics who call this a train wreck of a movie may have missed the point that “Dirty Grandpa” is a silly comedy meant for a good laugh, not to be taken seriously. It is hard to argue, however, that “Dirty Grandpa” fully employs the talents of De Niro and Efron, as actors of their level should be pursuing more worthy films.

But, you can’t deny that “Dirty Grandpa” will make you smirk and laugh out loud during some scenes from the movie.

Luke Hueskin is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at luke.hueskin@ubspectrum.com.


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