Film Review: The War with Grandpa

STUDIO: 101 Studios | DIRECTOR: Tim Hill | CAST: Robert de Niro, Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour, Oakes Fegley, Rob Riggle, Cheech Marin, Laura Marano
RELEASE DATE: Oct. 9, 2020
SPECS: PG | 94 min. | Family comedy

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie

Four years ago, Robert De Niro starred in Dirty Grandpa, a raunchy R-rated comedy in which he played a pleasure-seeking senior who takes part in spring break festivities with grandson Zac Efron.

In The War with Grandpa, De Niro plays a different elderly character. He’s a retired builder named Ed who takes residence with daughter Sally (Uma Thurman, The House That Jack Built) and her family, and finds himself engaged in domestic combat with Sally’s sixth-grade son Peter (Oakes Fegley, The Goldfinch), who’s upset he had to give up his room for his grandfather. The tension between grandfather/grandson turns into an all-out rivalry in which the two try to out-prank each other, and often get their friends involved in the ongoing battle.

Shot back in 2017 and only now seeing release, the film is a bland and formulaic reworking of elements from such crowd-pleasers as Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Parenthood, as well as a framing device that seems to be inspired by a “Fish Out of Water Hollywood Screenplay 101” class.

You see, Ed can’t get used to the electronics that son-law Peter (Rob Riggle, 21 Jump Street) and daughters (Please Stand By‘s Poppy Gagnon and Saving Zoe‘s Laura Marano) use, and the remote control car Peter uses to annoy Gramps confounds the old fellow.

Adding at least some interest to the proceedings is a solid supporting cast that includes Christopher Walken (The Jesus Rolls) and Cheech Marin (Machete) as Ed’s friends and allies at “war,” and Jane Seymour (TV’s The Kominsky Method) as a supermarket clerk who takes a liking to De Niro. Unfortunately, all of them are called on to display their physical prowess running, jumping, trampolining and more—and the substitution of stuntpeople is clunky and obvious.

Director Tim Hill has done some good work before—mostly in the animated space as he’s one of the masterminds behind the long-running SpongeBob SquarePants show. What’s missing in The War with Grandpa is that program’s irreverence and offbeat sensibilities despite the top-notch talent involved. This is one war where nobody really wins.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.