What’s going on with Robert De Niro? One of America’s greatest film actors ever has seemingly decided to take a page out of Michael Caine’s playbook and accept any role that allows him to pay the rent. De Niro’s net worth, though, has been estimated at US$500 million so maybe it isn’t the rent he’s thinking about. Instead, it may be his ex-wife’s monthly support payments, his now-shuttered restaurants, his film production company and his Tribeca Film Festival. Whatever the reason, De Niro is back on screen playing another grandfather (after the horrible DIRTY GRANDPA in 2016) in director Tim Hill’s (the SPONGEBOB franchise; ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS) THE WAR WITH GRANDPA. “Back” isn’t entirely correct though. THE WAR WITH GRANDPA has been sitting in limbo for a couple of years now. It’s one of the Weinstein films (along with THE CURRENT WAR) that got shelved due to the producer’s legal battle over his rape and sexual assault charges. The film was bought by 101 Studios and was supposed to be released in September. It then got pushed back to October 9th in the US and Canada, and October 22nd here.
Based on the popular 1984 book of the same name by Robert Kimmel Smith, who passed away earlier this year just before his 90th birthday, THE WAR WITH GRANDPA tells the story of Peter, a tweenage boy who has to give up his bedroom to his grandfather when the old man moves in with his family. Unhappy being relegated up to the attic, Peter declares war on his grandfather, hoping that the old man will move out and he will get his bedroom back. De Niro (JOKER; JOY) stars as Grandpa Ed, a jovial old guy whose daughter Sally (Uma Thurman, KILL BILL; PULP FICTION) insists he move into their home after he does what many people his age and even younger do – he backs his car over the mailbox. Oh, big deal! When my great-uncle was 83, he turned a Shopper’s Drug Mart pharmacy into a drive-thru. Anyhow, as in the book, Peter (Oakes Fegley, WONDERSTRUCK; PETE’S DRAGON) gets kicked upstairs to join the resident birds and mice, and barely a night goes by before he’s pranking Ed by substituting the old man’s shaving cream for fast-drying foam sealant, messing with his morning coffee and favourite cookies, and gluing his marble jar to his dresser (the longest walk to a punchline ever). Ed, though, is up for the challenge and he dishes out the hurt as good as he gets it. Their antics come to a head at Peter’s little sister’s Xmas-in-September-themed birthday party.
While the original story has been updated by the screenwriting team of Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (the pair also wrote the screenplays for GET SMART and FAILURE TO LAUNCH) to include such modern amenities as mobile phones, a drone and video games, none of which were around when the book was written, they left out one recent innovation that could have solved this whole matter – a tiny home! With the money Ed would have received from selling his house, he could have built a rather swish granny flat in Sally’s backyard and everyone would have been happy. Even after the events of the party, a tiny home would have been the obviously solution. Instead, the guys call a truce and agree to get along with the status quo… until, it would seem from the film’s final scene, Ed finds someone his own age to spend time with, leaving Peter with something new to complain about. Is a sequel is being planned for this film? Oh, please, I hope not.
Though the book has received much love over the years, there is little to love about this witless film. With the exception of one mildly amusing line about a diaper (which is in the trailer), the comedy, as it is, lands with a thud. Fegley, who looks like a prepubescent Emma Stone, plays Peter as an obnoxiously self-entitled brat. My father would have taken me out back and used a belt on my backside if I had pulled half the stunts that kid pulled on Ed. Instead, Peter gets grounded for six months. I would have signed him up as a volunteer at a senior’s assisted living centre instead. De Niro, fortunately, earns his big paycheque and he is helped by a vastly overqualified cast for such a misguided film that includes fellow THE DEER HUNTER alumnus Christopher Walken (THE JUNGLE BOOK), Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour (TV’s DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN; SOMEWHERE IN TIME) and, of course, Thurman.
THE WAR WITH GRANDPA film opens in Hong Kong on Thursday. Unless you’re a spoiled 12-year old who thinks the world owes you something, you can safely skip this film and still sleep well at night.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, October 23rd, 8:30 am HK time!
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