Is Dirty Grandpa * one big meta-prank on Robert De Niro? This revolting film is directed by Dan Mazer who worked with Sacha Baron Cohen on Da Ali G movie, Borat and Bruno, so maybe this was some cruel punk gag in which Mazer thought it would a wheeze to sign up the star of Raging Bull and Mean Streets knowing he’d be concentrating so hard on his performance he wouldn’t realise he was in an utterly shit comedy.
Except that De Niro has form in this realm, increasingly regularly. In Meet the Parents is was ok. In Meet the Fockers, his schtick as former black ops spy is embarrassing. Here, again as a Grandpa who was really a Special Forces marine back in ‘Nam, it is downright depressing.
The plot involves uptight preppy grandson Zac Efron having to take his just-bereaved Grandpa to Florida. Of course, now Grandma is dead, all Grandpa wants to do is: Fuck. So Grandpa forces his “pussy” of a grandson to drive via Daytona Beach while the fleshpot chugg-a-thon of Spring Break is in full swing.
A litany of racist, homophobic, misogynistic invective ensues as the camera leers at bums and bosoms, De Niro raps the N-word at karaoke, fondles lady golfers, gooses his grandson, gropes a willing and also embarrassing Aubrey Plaza, and forces Zac Efron to wear a fluffy bee on his crotch while a child plays with it so it looks like paedo-fellatio.
I can’t think of a single actual joke, you know, like with a punchline from the film. It’s all visual filth, like De Niro wanking at porn, or putting his “junk” on a pillow, or getting Zac Efron to wear semen-stained loon pants and a crop top with Stop Looking At My Tits emblazoned across it.
Now, my problem with gross-out cruel comedy is its pre-meditated nastiness. Mazer’s previous I Give It A Year was also mean-spirited and tight-assed; these films don’t have any improvised air about them – it isn’t a bunch of goofers getting together and tossing a few ideas around to see what gag hits best along the lame plot and glib love interest narrative. That might, at least, excuse them in their sub-Apatow way. No, here, this is thought-out, script-honed by committee, albeit the sort of committee that passes around the nose powder as they meet by their pool. Every arse shot and dick gag fussed over and paid for and lit. It is not casual misanthropy but institutionalised bitterness and stupidity.
It’s all exacerbated by De Niro’s utter commitment to the role, too. This isn’t something he’s sleepwalking through but a role he’s thrown himself into with something that approaches viciousness. Maybe it’s all a prank to tease and humiliate former teen throb Zac Efron, although he actually comes out of this with some dignity.
Whatever the intention – and believe me there’s malice aforethought here – it’s a perfect storm combo of bullying and self-loathing. Between them, if I may ape their idea of fun dialogue, De Niro and Mazer have created Mean Shits, ShitFellas, Raging BullShit, Arse Driver and The C*nt of Comedy.