Film Review: The War with Grandpa is a battle with no winners

Originally scheduled for release in 2017 (what a simpler time that was), The War with Grandpa is finally seeing the light of day – in the middle of a global pandemic, no less.  Whether it be a case of Tenet-like confidence, knowing self-sabotage, or a strategic move to claim its monetary underperformance is solely on the uncharted territory of cinematic uncertainty (thanks COVID), Tim Hill‘s embarrassingly unfunny family venture is earning a prime holiday-lead in date (at least here in Australia) that’ll likely result in a decent turn-out; if, for nothing else, because families are starved of films they can all “enjoy” together.

Headed by Robert DeNiro, The War with Grandpa is another wildly misguided choice for the lauded actor, who had only recently overturned such poor efforts as The Big Wedding (2013), the little-seen Heist (2015), and the vile Dirty Grandpa (2016) with acclaimed turns in last year’s Joker and The Irishman; though, in DeNiro’s defence, Grandpa was filmed prior to both of those aforementioned features.  The dedication to his craft is sorely lacking across this film’s painful 94 minutes, though that’s more a reflection on Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember‘s wildly inexplicable script, one that throws out all common sense for the sake of landing a juvenile, lowest denominator-aimed joke that rarely earns a rise from a viewer over the age of 10.

The titular “war” is a battle of brain-less shenanigans between Ed (DeNiro) and his 6th grader grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley), spurred on by the fact that the young tike has lost his room to granddaddy dearest when he moves in; the opening minutes of the film attempt to paint Ed as something of a loose cannon and lost case, so naturally moving in with his family will solve his rage issues.  Hoping to drive him out of home, Peter sets up a series of PG-rated pranks – swapping out his shaving cream for quick-drying foam, ruining his favourite record player, etc – that more so highlight his bratty attitude rather than illicit any major laughter, and instead of telling Peter’s parents – i.e his own daughter and son-in-law – Ed retaliates, roping in his equally-as-ridiculously-minded friends (Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour) to assist.

Little more than a Disney channel movie, albeit with a much larger casting budget (I haven’t even mentioned Uma Thurman as Peter’s mother, who often finds herself the victim of prank aftermath), The War with Grandpa isn’t entirely sure who it wants to cater to.  The heavy line-up of familiar names will be lost on the young audiences who are most likely going to respond as positively as possible, whilst the humour present – if you can even call it that – won’t remotely tickle the parent crowds, leaving the film in an odd limbo where its generic temperament is even more obvious.

Doing away with any of the character motivation it attempts to create throughout, The War with Grandpa doesn’t earn any of the heartfelt moments it hopes to manipulate its audience with.  Peter is the type of character that never really learns his lesson, and the mean-streak that runs underneath undoes much of its presumed humour.  A sadly bland affair, with its only genuine bright spot being the relationship formed between Ed and his inquisitive youngest granddaughter (Poppy Gagnon), The War with Grandpa is one battle where there are no ultimate winners.


The War with Grandpa is screening in Australian cinemas from December 3rd 2020.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.