When it’s time to hand out laurels at the end of the year, early releases sometimes slip under the radar. So here’s hoping that the January release of “Dirty Grandpa” doesn’t prevent critics from remembering the film when they make up their Worst Movies of 2016 lists, because it is truly deserving.
The film seems designed to see just how much further degradation Robert De Niro’s legacy can take, and at this point, the actor might be as well known for his late-career backslide into increasingly distressing dreck as he is for his indelible, influential work of the 1970s and ‘80s. The funny thing is that he seems to be perfectly happy to do it.
In “Dirty Grandpa,” it appears that screenwriter John Phillips opened Final Draft and typed as many expletives, words for genitalia and gross, unfunny brand-based puns as he could think of — several dozen times. With set pieces recycled from old episodes of “MTV’s Spring Break” and the running themes of masculinity panic, homophobia, racial stereotypes and casual references to sexual assault (these couldn’t, in fairness, be described as “jokes”), there you have “Dirty Grandpa.” The plot follows Richard (De Niro) as he hijacks his uptight grandson Jason (Zac Efron) to Daytona Beach, Fla., so he can party after his wife’s death and talk Jason out of marrying the shrill Meredith (Julianne Hough).
It goes without saying that the film is offensive, playing fast and loose with taboos such as the N-word, anti-Semitism, prison rape and child molestation, not to mention the treatment of women as mere orifices. But none of this is rendered in a particularly funny or novel way — just crude, shocking statements. Therefore, the film isn’t actually offensive because it’s trying so hard to be and failing miserably.
Much of “Dirty Grandpa’"s ire is directed at white males. Richard and everyone else constantly shame Jason for his slick, metrosexual/corporate lawyer life, with a continual gag referring to him as a “lesbian.” Efron submits gamely to the debasement, which often results in his nudity or an emasculating wardrobe.
Bright spots are found in the supporting cast, though the less said about Aubrey Plaza’s bizarre portrayal of horny, grandpa-fetishizing Lenore, the better. Hough is legitimately great as the marriage-obsessed control freak Meredith, a sort of female equivalent to the character played by Bradley Cooper in “Wedding Crashers.” Adam Pally is an always welcome presence. They just are not enough to pull “Dirty Grandpa” out of its ill-conceived and poorly executed gutter. Stay home and watch Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” instead.