At his grandmother’s funeral, clean-cut, khaki-sporting lawyer Jason (Zac Efron) is forced by his perverted grandfather, Dick (Robert De Niro), to drive him from Atlanta to his and his late wife’s vacation home in Florida. According to Dick, in a master display of guilt-tripping, it’s “what grandma would have wanted.” So off the two go to Boca Raton in Jason’s fiancée’s bubblegum pink Mini Cooper.
Along the way, they run into an old high school classmate of Jason’s, Shadia, who, without getting too convoluted, ends up stealing Jason’s money. In his attempt to apprehend her, they meet Shadia’s two friends, the perpetually under-dressed Lenore and Cody. Grandpa Dick catches Lenore’s eye, who is a closet gerontophile looking to sleep with a college professor. We find out later that Dick is definitely not a college professor, but that’s actually not that important.
Lenore invites the two boys to party in Daytona Beach. Naturally, it’s spring break. Jason adamantly refuses – he needs to get home to finish planning his fast-approaching wedding. While playing a round of golf before they hit their final destination, Dick pleads his case to his grandson: he hasn’t had sex in 15 years, he needs to have sex with Lenore, and he needs Jason to be his wingman. Jason, fearing his grandpa will hot-wire his car and take off without him, begrudgingly agrees.
This unplanned detour to Daytona sets off a whirlwind of drug, alcohol and sex-fueled shenanigans that ultimately lead to Jason completely changing his life path, as well as his relationship with his grandpa.
Directed by Dan Mazer of Borat fame, Dirty Grandpa is a lot of very different movies in one. There are some jarringly graphic scenes that literally felt like they came out of nowhere. Who knew they were going so literal with the title “Dirty Grandpa.” I found myself shaking my head at some of the things Oscar-winner Robert De Niro was (hopefully forced into) doing. One scene in particular, involving a Barcalounger, a TV, and some Kleenex, is still deeply embedded into this poor reviewer’s psyche. And this was at the very top of the movie.
Zac Efron’s Jason is harmless and likable enough; he wears a lot of polo shirts, references SCC Compliances far too often, and looks good without any clothes on. He’s the straight man to De Niro’s fool. But like most protagonists in these types of movies, he’s the least interesting of the bunch.
Enter: Jason’s cousin Nick, played by The Mindy Project’s Adam Pally, who boasts some of the funniest parts of the movie. Pally definitely knows how to commit to and deliver a line. His character’s obsession with dogs really resonated with the animal lover in me — mild tones of bestiality notwithstanding. Aubrey Plaza did the best she could with what she was given. Admittedly, she and Robert De Niro shared some pretty comical exchanges; whenever the word “thunderf*ck” is used in a sentence, it’s bound to get a chuckle out of me. And then there’s surf-shack owner Pam (Jason Mantzoukas) who was a refreshingly outlandish addition the movie. Remember, he also sells meth – one of the few jokes that didn’t feel like it was being beaten to death.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most of the back-and-forth between Efron and De Niro. And it’s not for lack of chemistry. With better material, the two might actually be on to something. Some of the more down to earth scenes between the two — when they’re not trying so hard to be “dirty” — are quite touching.
However, the most disheartening part of the film isn’t the lack of laugh-out-loud moments between its two leads – it’s actually its blatant sexism, racism and homophobia. Some of the things Dick says to Cody, who happens to be both gay and black, displays the utter laziness of shooting for the easy target. Sure, Dick technically redeems himself later on in the movie (in one of many completely gratuitous scenes), but it still didn’t remove the bad taste left in my mouth earlier on when Dick tauntingly asks Cody if he likes “that purple drank.”
For a movie that’s just over an hour and a half long, it felt much, much longer – simply because there are just too many unnecessary plot points and characters. The problem may lie with the fact that Dirty Grandpa doesn’t know what type of movie it wants to be. It tries to be everything: a lighthearted road trip movie, a sweet romance, a coming-of-age story about a man who finally figures out who he wants to be, a heartfelt dramedy about a forgotten bond between grandfather and grandson, and a raunchy sex/gross-out comedy.
Pick a genre and stick with it, please. ~Shelby Morton