30th Sep2020

‘The War With Grandpa’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Juliocesar Chavez, Laura Marano | Written by Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember | Directed by Tim Hill

Robert De Niro adds another grandpa comedy to his filmography with the serviceable but uninspired family comedy The War With Grandpa. Still, it could have been worse – at least it’s not Dirty Grandpa II.

Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon) stars as Peter, a pre-teen kid who’s horrified to hear that he’ll have to give up his bedroom when his mother, Sally (Uma Thurman) insists that Grandpa Ed (De Niro) has to move in with them. Spurred on by best friend Billy (Juliocesar Chavez), Pete decides to declare war on his grandpa until he gets his room back. And when Ed lays out the rules of engagement, an escalating series of pranks and practical jokes ensues.

That’s pretty much all there is to The War With Grandpa, since the lazy, by-the-numbers script (credited to three writers) doesn’t bother digging any further than that initial set-up. Consequently, what follows is so ridiculously predictable that you can practically set your watch by it. There are some midly amusing pranks, then some longer set pieces, then other family members get unwittingly dragged into the whole thing and finally some very minor lessons are learned. That’s it.

In fairness, this is largely hamstrung by its family friendly PG certificate. It’s easier to imagine that the set-pieces could have been a lot funnier if the filmmakers had had a bit more leeway with boundaries and language. As it is, there’s the occasional flash of imagination (the best gag is probably De Niro getting his shaving foam replaced with foam sealant), but that’s about it. And to give some idea of the certificate-dictated restrictions, there’s an extended dodgeball sequence of old people versus kids where no-one even gets hit in the unmentionables.

Tim Hill’s direction is competent enough that he can handle an extended setpiece (notably a Christmas-in-July birthday party celebration that gets out of hand), but The War With Grandpa never gets close to anything resembling an actual laugh. This is also the sort of film that’s saturated with aggressively in-your-face product placement, the most egregious example of which involves De Niro learning how to attack and demolish Pete’s meticulously assembled Minecraft castle.

The performances are very much by-the-numbers too. De Niro, if anything, plays slightly against type – rather than the grumpy old man figure he’s played several times before, his Ed is a nice guy who essentially indulges his grandson because he understands how angry he is. Similarly, Fegley is a likeable enough actor that he’s able to get away with the various pranks without the audience taking against him.

The supporting cast, however, are either completely wasted or painful to watch or both. Christopher Walken hams it up something terrible as Ed’s best friend Jerry, while Jane Seymour is given next to nothing to do as Ed’s sort-of girlfriend Diane (at least we were spared a love scene). Spare a thought though for poor Uma Thurman, who has to endure all manner of indignities and has an expression on her face throughout that says, “So it’s come to this.”

** 2/5

The War With Grandpa will be released in US cinemas on October 9th; it releases in the UK on October 16th 2020.

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