“The War with Grandpa” – Since I’m a child of the 70s and 80s, sometimes 2020 feels like an alien world, not necessarily due to miracles of modern technology, but socially.
Back in the day, parents left their Gen X children to their own devices (not cell phones but ideas and related tomfoolery) for hours and hours. My mom would shoo my brothers and me out of the house on Saturday or Sunday mornings, and say, “Have a great day. Dinner is at six.”
My father’s word was law, including his cashless payment system in exchange for child labor assignments, like shoveling the driveway during Upstate New York’s arctic winters and multitasking numerous yardwork duties during the humid summers.
I didn’t work for free, because he usually declared, “Don’t worry, Son. You’ll get double desserts tonight.”
On top of this odd duality of rampant freedom and strict adherence to parental commands, most kids – in say, 1980 – wouldn’t start a war with one of their grandfathers. Forty years ago, grandfathers began smoking at 15 and lived during The Great Depression, World War II, The Cold War, and the Heidi Game. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have started a conflict with either of my grandpas for Jack Lambert’s rookie card, a pinball machine, and a year supply of Big League Chew. Why invite a death wish?
In 2020, Peter (Oakes Fegley) has no such fear.
Shortly after Peter’s Grandpa Ed (Robert De Niro) moved into his grandson’s room, this plucky 6th grader at Garfield Middle School unleashes a fierce rivalry with his mom’s dad. You see, Peter had to give up his 12’ by 12’ domain and take up residence in the attic, and hence, Ed – who is a pleasant widower, outside of an ill-advised supermarket confrontation within the movie’s first few minutes – becomes Public Enemy #1 for the loosest of reasons.
“The War with Grandpa” doesn’t aim very high, but director Tim Hill’s slapstick family comedy serves a couple of purposes. This critic chuckled a few times over 94 minutes, but I don’t know, perhaps elementary school audiences will have a blast. Adults will enjoy catching glimpses of the big-time cast. Hill and 37 producers conjured some magic to sign on De Niro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Jane Seymour, Cheech Marin, and Christopher Walken. It’s a head-scratcher, but just about everything entering our orbit in 2020 is laced with surprises.
There aren’t many other revelations in “Grandpa”. Ed and Peter have a “Home Alone”-like prankster-filled battle that includes toothpaste mixed with sweets, faulty door hinges, a snake, and the 69 boyz “Tootsie Roll” blasting at an inopportune time. The movie is harmless and perfectly acceptable for playing in the background while cleaning the house or piecing together a puzzle, but it’s also a bit nonsensical. Ed is a sympathetic fella and frankly doesn’t deserve Peter placing a bullseye on his head, so the film isn’t set up for compelling theatre.
Thurman and Riggle carve out ample screen time, but Beatrix Kiddo delivers any ole mom role offered in 10,000 other light comedies, and funnyman Riggle plays it straight. At least Seymour, Marin, Walken, and De Niro serve up a semi-mean game of dodgeball, so there’s that. Then again, Walken and De Niro flinging red rubber balls doesn’t have the gravitas of Michael (De Niro) and Nick (Walken) enduring Russian roulette in a Viet Cong prison.
Hey, the average 10-year-old won’t know the difference, but I’m a child of the 70s and 80s, so…
⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: 101 Studios; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers