If you were to assume that a movie starring Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour sounded like the next Quentin Tarantino epic, you would not be entirely remiss. But you would be sorely disappointed to discover, upon purchasing entry to “The War with Grandpa,” that the killer cast is sorely wasted on an utterly inane script about a spoiled kid who inexplicably decides he hates his very nice grandpa for moving into his room. Based on the popular kids’ book by Robert Kimmel Smith, “The War with Grandpa” is a sluggish hodgepodge of slapstick humor that barely holds together its illogically motivated plot.
The drama begins when Ed (De Niro as the titular Grandpa) is forced by his well-meaning daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) to move in with her family after an incident of grocery store rage ends with him assaulting a Black security guard. (One of the two Black people who speak in the film, both of whom are service workers.) Displaced from his very lovely room into the equally as private but somewhat leaky attic, his grandson Peter (Oakes Fegley) decides to make Grandpa’s life a living hell in order to convince him into switching rooms with him. Upon arrival, Ed cheerily greets his granddaughters, the adorable Jenny (Poppy Gagnon) and hormonal Mia (Laura Marano), making Peter’s coldness all the more bratty as he ices out the good-natured old man.
Peter writes an official declaration of war, egged on by his friends at school, but Ed is initially unperturbed. That is until his shaving cream hardens onto his face, he slips on his favorite jar of marbles, and he wakes up to a live snake in his bed. He consults his own Greek chorus of incorrigible retirees Jerry (Walken) and Danny (Marin), who insist he retaliate with requisite gusto in order to prove his manhood. Sporting a cubavera colorful enough to catch Pedro Almodóvar’s eye, wacky Walken (and his blatant stunt double) is introduced riding and crashing an electric Onewheel skateboard. Meanwhile, Marin’s Danny earns his personality hollering at younger women, because obviously kids need to learn that harassing women is hilarious.
For her part, Thurman appears to be in an entirely different film, playing a game of solitaire as she sees exactly how far over the top she can push the disgruntled mother caricature. Whether she’s dipping into her guttural chest voice to admonish her children or smiling emptily over her embroidery, Thurman seems to have made her own fun on set. De Niro is more at ease with the ridiculous dialogue and acting opposite children, having already sold his soul on obvious payday projects like “The Intern,” “Dirty Grandpa,” and “Little Fockers.” While Thurman has certainly played her fair share of romantic comedies better left forgotten, she’s also appeared in Lars Von Trier’s last three movies. She hasn’t had to dumb it down quite this much in awhile, and it shows.
After a series of pranks that escalates at once too slowly while becoming potentially lethal out of nowhere, Grandpa and Peter bond during a fishing expedition that appears to spell truce. But all the good will built up flies out the window when Ed falls through the doorway to his room, and the game is back on. When the sworn enemies decide to call an armistice during little Jenny’s elaborate Christmas-themed birthday, even the sight of Walken in a Santa suit can’t save the shenanigans that have to ensue for the movie to make good on the promise of its title. A few electric shocks, a falling ladder, and one deflated bouncy castle later, and the jig is finally, mercifully, up.
After ruining his little sister’s birthday and nearly destroying his entire house, Peter sees the error of his ways and finally raises the white flag on his war with Grandpa. That is, until Grandpa’s newfound love interest (Seymour) threatens their weekly fishing trips, teasing a sequel. “The War with Grandpa” may be over, but Hollywood’s war on taste slogs tirelessly on.
101 Studios will release “The War with Grandpa” in select theaters on Friday, October 9.
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