As traditional boundaries in R-rated slapsticks continue to be pushed and filmmakers continue to seek new ways to comically shock us, if you’re going to title a movie Dirty Grandpa, you’d better make sure that grandpa is really, really dirty. Consequently, the biggest compliment I can give director Dan Mazer and screenwriter John Phillips is that the Dirty doesn’t nearly do justice to this Grandpa – I truly can’t remember the last time I was this flabbergasted by screen vulgarity, or the last time I roared at screen vulgarity quite so hard.
The high-concept pitch finds a high-strung corporate lawyer (Zac Efron’s Jason), on the eve of his wedding, traveling to Florida with his newly widowed grandfather (Robert De Niro’s Dick ... hee hee ... Robert De Niro’s Dick ...). Yet from the moment he got picked up for the getaway – Jason walking in on the man masturbating to porn – it was clear that Dick wasn’t the lovable, benign codger Jason thought he was. Instead, he was, and is ... Dirty Grandpa! Smash cut to Daytona Beach hotties, drinking contests, drug binges, and more misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic jokes than you can count. Also cut to a slightly mortified me frequently cackling my ass off.
All movies of this ilk are hit-and-miss, and a number of gags here land with a (not always figurative) splat. It’s easy, too, to be put off by the remedial plotting and expected sentimental detours, and by a finale that actually incorporates variants on two of the hoariest conventions in screen comedies: the breaking-off-the-engagement scene, and the mad dash to the airport to Get the Girl. But I’ll go on record as saying that it’s been many, many years since these inevitable sequences have been as riotous as they are in Dirty Grandpa. I’ll go on record further by saying that the movie might not be “good,” per se, but try telling that to my copious tears of laughter.
De Niro is pricelessly offensive when spewing out invective (his early nickname for Jason – “Alan Douche-owitz” – is one of only a few printable examples), and his infectious performance glee seems to finally release Efron’s comic id; it turns out that being wasted on crack while wearing a G-string was all it took to rid the star of his High School Musical blandness. Zoey Deutch, as Jason’s former classmate and Daytona crush, isn’t allowed to be as profane as the others, but she’s beguilingly lovely and real, and for shock value we’re given plenty of other outstanding participants, among them the hilarious Jason Mantzoukas, Adam Pally, Mo Collins, and Henry Zebrowski. (Mazer may not do much for the film visually, but he clearly loves actors – even the usually blah Julianne Hough, as Jason’s fiancée, is a high-maintenance hoot.)
And amidst the ceaseless parade of hand-drawn penises and satiric frat-bro homoeroticism and truly jaw-dropping set pieces – one, involving a nearly naked Efron and a 10-year-old boy, that I can’t believe didn’t get red-flagged by the MPAA – there’s Aubrey Plaza, whose every syllable exudes über-filthy panache. Her deadpan has forever been a thing of comic beauty, but Plaza unleashed is like nothing I’ve seen before; her dry wit is so sharp that it leaves scars. In her role as a bikini-clad collegiate with an unapologetic hunger for septuagenarians, Plaza’s Lenore hits on Dick with an absolute lack of either subtext or subtlety, and De Niro, happily, gives as good as he gets, their repartee astoundingly crude and achingly funny. Dirty Grandpa is disreputable as hell. But it’s closer to Heaven whenever Aubrey Plaza is around. What’s not to love about a gal who pines for De Niro with a swoony “He’s my Henry Miller,” and who explains her ardor with “I lost my virginity at my Pop-Pop’s bingo night”?
THE 5TH WAVE
Chloë Grace Moretz can never run around with a machine gun quite enough for my tastes, so I’ll admit that I was kind of jazzed by the The 5th Wave’s opening scene. In it, a panicked, firearm-toting Moretz races through the woods, seemingly egged on by composer Henry Jackman’s impressively oppressive music, until she lands at a deserted, obviously ransacked convenient store. While stashing supplies in her backpack, she hears a voice, and comes upon a terrified young man huddled in the corner. Apparently injured, he begs Moretz not to shoot him, insisting he’s “not one of them.” She doesn’t believe him, and when he makes a sudden movement (toward his crucifix necklace, we learn), she shoots him dead – an act that, to say the least, isn’t the most conventional way to introduce an audience to its heroine. So far, I thought, so good. Then, in voice-over, we hear Moretz say, “I was a totally normal high-school girl,” and a flashback whisks us to the pre-panicked kid enjoying her last halcyon days of cute boys and emoji-filled texts before The World Changed Forever. Aw crap, I thought, here we go.
For all of you tweens and tween-friendlies not nearly sated by the many Twilights, Hunger Gameses, Divergent/Insurgents and Maze Runners, you’ll be thrilled to learn that there’s a brand-new (planned) screen trilogy on the block in the form of the 5th Wave series, director J Blakeson’s first entry based on a YA-lit novel by Rick Yancey. Story-wise, this alien-apocalypse saga is like a mash-up of Independence Day, Starship Troopers, and Lord of the Flies, with just a dash of The Thing for flavor. Spiritually, it’s every “Kids shoot the darnedest things!” entertainment that I’d kind of hoped had run its course by now. There’s a feisty female lead with a pair of expressionless hotties (Nick Robinson and Alex Roe) to choose from, plus the lead’s younger sibling (a quite good Zackary Arthur) she’s sworn to protect. There’s a kindly dad (Ron Livingston) and mean military officials who may be aliens in disguise, and young soldiers with colorful nicknames such as Teacup, Flintstone, and Dumbo. (The latter is played by Tony Revolori, who must be praying that he can check back into The Grand Budapest Hotel pronto.) There are piles of hysterical coincidences and unsurprising plot twists, and some of the most atrocious non-prosthetic makeup I’ve yet seen in a big-budget release. (Under her pancake foundation and heavy eye shadow, poor Maria Bello is nearly unrecognizable.) There’s the requisite shot of Moretz going gaga at the sight of the bare-chested Roe, who does appear to be the preferred romantic option, as he can chop wood and his cabin home is apparently stockpiled with conditioner. And, after all the mass destruction and bloodless violence and laughably earnest attempts at serious acting, with Moretz frequently weeping without accompanying tears, there’s the realization the The 5th Wave’s ending is not an ending, but merely the “To be continued!” to a forthcoming, no doubt equally tedious adventure. Someone wake me when The 7th Wave has finally left the area.
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