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Dumb De Niro

 102 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed byDan Mazer 
Starring: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron
Dirty Grandpa

Zac Efron is about the same age Tom Cruise was when Cruise essentially apprenticed opposite Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman in The Color of Money and Rain Man. So, it’s understandable that the former High School Musical star may have wanted to boost his own career in a similar fashion by appearing opposite the legendary Robert De Niro in a road buddy picture. Unfortunately for Efron, while Newman and Hoffman collected Oscars in their collaborations with Cruise, De Niro is in line for a very different award for Dirty Grandpa, namely the Razzie. And, even if Efron works another 50 years, it’s doubtful he will ever humiliate himself again onscreen to the extent that he did in Grandpa.


Efton actually plays against his usual overgrown party guy image in Grandpa, playing Jason Kelly, a straight laced lawyer who is about to marry a control freak fiancée (Julianne Hough), primarily to cement a business alliance between the families. The wedding is only a week away but Jason has to make an extended detour. His grandmother has just died, and his estranged grandfather Dick (De Niro) prevails upon him to go to Boca Raton, ostensibly to visit the couple’s vacation home one last time. Actually, Dick wants to cut loose and sow his wild oats, after a number of sexless years. The trip starts promisingly enough. After grandfather and grandson meet a couple of college girls at a roadside diner, Dick browbeats Jason into making a detour to Daytona Beach in pursuit of the coeds.


However, as Jason eventually learns, Dick isn’t only interested in getting wasted and bedding a college girl even though Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), one of the girls at the diner, is more than ready to hop in the sack with him. No, he’s actually trying to rescue Jason from a life of hellish drudgery that everyone in the audience can see will be his fate if he goes through with the marriage. Since Jason is determined to get back to Atlanta for his wedding as soon as possible, Dick has to engage in a great deal of subterfuge to get his way.


Fortunately for both Jason and Dick, fate in the form of a convenient plot development courtesy of screenwriter John Phillips might offer Jason a way out. It seems that, besides Lenore, the other girl at the diner happens to be the shy, sweet, decent, kind Shadia (Zoey Deutch), an old acquaintance of Jason’s, who manages to rekindle his interest in photography and doing good deeds in general. Also, fortunately for Dick, but not so much for the audience, Lenore and Shadia had a third friend at the diner, an exceedingly stereotypical gay black man named Bradley (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman). His presence as wingman for the girls on their trip gives Dick and screenwriter Phillips all the excuse they need to unleash a barrage of homophobic jokes that ceased being funny to anyone beyond the third grade.


At first glance, it might appear that Dirty Grandpa has hundreds of tasteless, bad, unfunny jokes. In reality, the movie has about a dozen or so that it keeps recycling endlessly for 100 minutes. In addition to its gay slurs, crude sexist jokes, Nazi jokes, jokes involving the flippant use of the N-word, and a barrage of jokes that consist merely of using slang expressions for sexual acts and body parts in ordinary sentences, Dirty Grandpa attempts to find humor in child molestation. After Dick arranges to spike Jason’s drink at a party one night, the latter wakes up naked on a beach the next morning in far too close proximity to a curious little boy.


I really feel bad about Zac Efron because references to this movie are going to haunt his carreer from now on. He has the unenviable role of an uptight professional in a crude sex comedy, a character who is guaranteed to be a foil from the opening credits onward. So, while the most “embarrassing” aspect of De Niro’s performance, in addition to the damage done to the memory of roles like Vito Corleone and Jake LaMotta, is that he has Aubrey Plaza pawing over him in a couple of scenes, Efron winds up looking like a complete jackass over and over again. In the infamous beach scene, he’s not only naked, with a stuffed animal covering his genitals, but he also finds he has swastikas and sex organs drawn on his face with a Sharpie. That latter joke apparently struck screenwriter Phillips as so funny that he repeated it later in the movie with Jason’s equally uptight dad (played by Dermot Mulroney) as the victim.


My biggest annoyance with Dirty Grandpa actually isn’t the enormous number of tasteless yet unfunny jokes. It’s the fact that the filmmakers want to have their cake and eat it too. Dick isn’t merely a sex crazed, bullying jerk; he’s a caring guy who’s trying to rescue his grandson from a horrible life. How can you tell he’s caring? Well, after spending the first half of the movie throwing gay slurs at Bradley left and right, Dick comes to the young man’s defense when some real thuggish homophobes try to bully him. And then he makes up with the thugs, who are really nice guys themselves, so nice, in fact, that they allow De Niro to toss around the N-word in their presence.


Ironically, Johnny Knoxville, of all people, used pretty much this same setup for laughs a couple of years back in a considerably funnier movie, Bad Grandpa. The main difference between the two films is that Robert De Niro, even in his 70’s, looks like a tough guy who is more than capable of holding his own with a comely coed or a group of thugs. A heavily made-up Knoxville (his movie got an Oscar nomination for its makeup) looked startlingly like a seemingly helpless octogenarian, from whom the vulgarity was far more startling and far funnier.


Dirty Grandpa has a few, very few, things going for it, most notably the aforementioned Plaza, who proves game for the obligatory sexpot role and manages to make her character lively. And, there are a handful of decent jokes scattered far and wide in the midst of the vulgarity. But, for the most part, Dirty Grandpa seems like a movie written by a group of 10-year-olds anxious to see just how many of the new dirty words they’ve learned that they can actually use in a movie. The answer, of course, is far too many. Dirty Grandpa deserves to wind up in the dirt—six feet under.

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Dirty Grandpa (2016) on IMDb