Directed By Tim Hill
Starring – Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle
The Plot – Peter (Oakes Fegley) is thrilled that Grandpa (De Niro) is coming to live with his family. That is, until Grandpa moves into Peter’s room, forcing him upstairs into the creepy attic. And though he loves his grandpa he wants his room back, so he has no choice but to declare war. With the help of his friends, Peter devises outrageous plans to make Grandpa surrender the room. But Grandpa is tougher than he looks. Rather than give in, Grandpa plans to get even.
Rated PG for rude humor, adult language, and some thematic elements
– Spirited performances. Surprisingly, there’s a big name celebrity behind every corner that this movie has to offer, and each of them instills a sense of kinetic chemistry and energetic comedic timing that makes this movie feel bigger than it rightfully should be. That starts with the dynamic between De Niro and Fegley, whose on-going increasing rivalry conjures up an unshakeable indulgence that brings out the most creativity in each of their respective characters. De Niro in particular is a constant delight, bringing an unabashed focus and professionalism to the role that would otherwise be entirely easy to phone in for the sake of a paycheck. Thurman is also equally conveying of such, showing off more of a physical resonating emotional pallet, complete with animated facial registries that offers a refreshingly original side to the often menacing actress. Cheech Marin, Christopher Walken, and Jane Seymour are just a few of the other meticulously inserted cherished faces that appear at any point in the film, and round out a completely talented ensemble that continuously contribute to the integrity of each scene regardless of the importance of their roles.
– Superbly paced. Regardless of how you feel about “The War With Grandpa”, you won’t feel a sense of anger or wasteful time in watching it, because of a pacing for the screenplay that continuously keeps things going through 97 minutes of rip-roaring hijinks between the two protagonists. There was never a point in the movie where I was bored, despite a majority of this script feeling repetitive between each sequence, and even with most of the material feeling easily telegraphed or predictable, the gags never overstay their welcome to feeling anything but temporary moments of inconvenience that colorfully serves its purpose before moving on. Oddly enough, the first act is the most prominent in this department, capably setting the stage and ensuing war for what’s to come in the remainder of the film, all the while introducing us to a set of strangely diverse characters with their own elements of quirk in fleshing out this oddly unconventional world that the movie depicts.
– Practical effects. There’s very little demand for effects work throughout the entirety of the picture, but I always commend a movie when they involve real animals instead of going the safe route, and illustrating it in during post-production. There’s nothing that puts said animal, a snake, in grave and immediate danger with what’s being asked in the complexity of the scene, but the consistency to practicality allows the sequence to escape any shred of obviousness that unintentionally distracts or removes audience from immersive qualities. There are some light computer generated eventually in the film that I will mention in the next positive, but they’re so suddenly realized that it’s hard to take too much away from the beneficial production choices, which are aplenty throughout the entirety of this film.
– Sharp dodgeball sequence. The last thing I expected from this movie was a thrilling action sequence with some honorable feats of production and stunt work sandwiched in between, but that’s the case during Hill’s visually most ambitious sequence of the movie and his entire career respectively. The stunt work involves the actual younger actors in the movie flipping and contorting their bodies while on a trampoline park to the kind of level that professional stuntmen are often called upon to attain. There are the occasional moments when a character is obviously super imposed during slow motion sequences in the air, but that’s understandable when you understand the risk associated within the reward. As for the shot composition during the scene, Hill incorporates enough diversity and experimentation in unorthodox angles and patient editing that executes without ever taking away from the detection and consistency of the game between cuts. It’s one of the more fluent sports sequences that I have seen in quite sometime, and made even more appreciative because there’s very little about Hill’s work that makes me a believer of his.
– As an adaptation. “The War With Grandpa” is actually based on a children’s novel of the same name by Robert Kimmel Smith, and has earned a positive reputation for literature that prominently captures the alienation and spirit of teenage promiscuity. You’ll be happy to know that the cinematic adaptation follows this to a tee, with the exception of narration through the book seen through Peter’s eyes, which wouldn’t translate well to the structure garnered in the film. It’s faithful in material almost beat for beat, tonally in that it brings its adult characters down emotionally to its childlike protagonist, and structurally in that it’s consistently back and forth in the struggle documented in the war in question. It leaves less to rely on toward screenwriters Tom Astle and Matt Ember that could possibly require them to alienate the legion of fans that adored its origin, and takes comfort in the safety it becomes saddled with creatively that vibrantly brings it to life better than a majority of adaptations.
– Sitcom structure. This film’s troubled production during the Harvey Weinstein scandal has left it searching for a release date since 2018, and in that time there’s evidence to solidify that this was shopped as a television show based on the creative annoyances it continuously commits. For one, the flashback gags quite frequently halt progress in the current day narrative, fleshing out unnecessary humor in something that is entirely irrelevant with what is being discussed in the foreground of the scene. This is something that shows like “Family Guy” or “Futurama” have made famous in animated form, but doesn’t translate well to the screen when you consider it becomes a forced pause button every ten minutes or so that it happens. Secondly, the emotionally resonant musical score is every bit meandering as it is dimensionally flat for their temporary resonance. They’re easily forgettable in a matter of seconds, and are only included to obviously weigh heavily on a scene’s intention like a wet blanket, making this the “Full House” of 2020 movie releases.
– Inconsistent humor. To be fair, there are a few gags in the movie that caught my attention, and left me with an unshakeable grin, particularly a nude De Niro constantly running into Riggle, where the ladder’s infectious energy oversells the intention better than it rightfully should. But for the overall bigger picture, the movie’s humor becomes saddled with these mean-spirited, gross-out punchlines that underscores its audience as a whole, and feels incoherent with the love between family members that is still evidently there despite this temporary disposition. In addition to this, one of Peter’s friends occasionally only pops up to deliver some crude line of dialogue that wears old by the second or third time he appears, and it continuously reminded me of the low-hanging fruit that this movie has no objections in reaching for. It’s marketed towards the lowest common denominator of class, and revels there with a level of material that disappoints with groans more times than it satisfies with giggles.
– Suspending disbelief. This is also required in establishing the intention of these gags, as some skeptic-heavy relevancy makes these a bit more difficult to buy than what was initially intended. One such scene involves Thurman continuously running into the same police officer every morning on the same road and intersection at the exact same time. Is it possible? Sure. It is probable? Not at all, and after a few times of doing something that requires punishment by said officer, you would think to start looking before leaping. Another instance involves a medic button that conveniently keeps the medics from coming for at least a couple of hours before arriving. Can you imagine the lawsuits that would come from this? Then there’s those moments to sell a groan-worthy punchline in dialogue, like the one involving a jar of marbles that go down the housing vent just so the cute little girl can say “Grandpa lost his marbles”. Finally, I love a blaring cell phone during a funeral that apparently doesn’t have a volume or power button to lower its volume. I guess those new Iphones are difficult to manage when you’re trying to grieve for a loved one.
– Additional subplots. There’s at least an attempt to outline some sort of importance or intention for supporting characters featured in and around the rivalry between grandfather and grandson, but none of which ever materialize into feeling anything other than tacked-on minutes to a narrative just trying to reach the finish line of big screen run times. Some decipate into nothing more than moments of convenience that spring up when the script absolutely requires them to, and some have no resolution at all what so ever, like the one with Riggle’s fatherly character mentioning hating his job throughout the entirety of the film, then refusing to do anything about it for the satisfaction of the character. This is a movie that focuses all of its energies on the primary narrative, and it shows. I just wish the script took more time to develop the supporting characterization more, especially considering how many times they’re called upon to the forefront of this story’s primary narrative.
– Strained message/finale. There’s a strange final ten minutes of this movie that I have difficulty putting into words. First is the overall message, which is seen through Peter’s perspective, where he says “I don’t ever want to go to war”. So instead of family is the most important thing, or cherish the ones you have before they’re gone, we get a message cemented to never go to war. That’s deep. Secondly is the final scene itself, which not only ends anti-climatically, but also concludes with a look from Peter that I still don’t fully comprehend. It’s like the movie is saying that his war with grandpa will continue through grandpa’s newfound girlfriend, but I don’t understand how or why this comes to fruition. It’s a finale so creepy in its direction of its actors, yet so cryptically nuanced in its themes that it has to be seen to be believed, and only further makes me wish that this movie would’ve been turned into the horror film that it occasionally hinted at.
My Grade: 5/10 or D