When a movie poster lists actors such as Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and Uma Thurman, high expectations are a given. Unfortunately, those expectations work against The War With Grandpa. The well-known and talented cast gives it their all, but this translation from a book written for 8-year-olds to the big screen does not live up to its potential.
Widower Ed (Robert De Niro) lives alone, but his worried daughter Sally (Uma Therman) insists that he move in with her after an incident with a self-checkout register convinces her that her elderly father can no longer live on his own. Sally’s son, sixth-graderPeter (Oakes Fegley), does not mind his grandfather moving in, but his grandfather taking over his bedroom while he relocates to the attic is a step too far. Peter retaliates with the first strike in what soon becomes an epic prank war.
The War With Grandpa has one thing going for it: the cast. Criminally under-utilized, one cannot help but wonder just how bored the actors involved had to be to sign onto this movie. I have a personal theory that De Niro has a grandchild who is a huge fan of the book and insisted he say “yes.” Then the remaining actors agreed, based on DeNiro’s star power. I cannot wrap my head around another possible reason.
While not aggressively bad, The War With Grandpa lacks the cleverness and charm that might push the film beyond basic family fare. It has a few fun moments, but things are more often uncomfortable than funny. Ed’s friendships with Danny (Cheech Marin) and Jerry (Christopher Walken) had great comedic potential, but instead of laughs, we get things like an awkwardly shot scene of Jerry riding a hoverboard. Ed and Peter’s family lack any meaningful character development, so we get a harried mother, a henpecked father (Rob Riggle), one sister obsessed with her boyfriend (Laura Marano), and another sister obsessed with Christmas (Poppy Gagnon) without much additional context. The filmmakers attempted to create a secondary plot where Sally is furious at her eldest daughter for sneaking off with her boyfriend, but instead of exploring this story, they just play it for comedy when the daughter and boyfriend get caught together.
This film might have been more successful if there was a better build-up to the prank attack. Ed seems like a very sweet and loving grandpa, so Peter’s rapid jump to the mean and sometimes cruel jokes played on Ed seemed excessive. You cannot help but ask where does Peter think Ed will live other than Peter’s old bedroom? Why is he doing things that border on criminal behavior – there is a fake call to emergency services at one point – without any real consequences? In the end, Peter does not seem like a justifiably annoyed kid who lost his bedroom. He comes off as an extremely spoiled and entitled brat.
Showcased as a movie for the whole family, The War With Grandpa can at least claim to be appropriate for a wide range of ages. If you are desperate for a movie to watch with the whole family, this could fit the bill. The mean-spiritedness in the film, however, make it a lot less fun than it should be. No one is watching this movie and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. You are better off skipping this trip to the theater and staying home to stream something you know your whole family already loves.
Still desperate to head to the movies? The War With Grandpa is available in theaters, where available, on October 9, 2020.
About The War With Grandpa
Rating: PG (Some Thematic Elements|Rude Humor|Language)
Runtime: 1h 34m
Sixth-grader Peter (Oakes Fegley) is pretty much your average kid—he likes gaming, hanging with his friends and his beloved pair of Air Jordans. But when his recently widowed grandfather Ed (Robert De Niro) moves in with Peter’s family, the boy is forced to give up his most prized possession of all, his bedroom. Unwilling to let such an injustice stand, Peter devises a series of increasingly elaborate pranks to drive out the interloper, but Grandpa Ed won’t go without a fight. Soon, the friendly combatants are engaged in an all-out war with side-splitting consequences.