If ‘The War with Grandpa‘ looks like a pretty harmless family comedy that stays within the confines of its genre and does more to bore you with its stale jokes about the divide between the youthful and the geriatric, that’s because it is precisely that. It’s the kind of strange family comedy that can assemble some legendary actors like Robert De Niro, with some memorable ones like Uma Thurman, and great comedians like Rob Riggle, and up and coming stars like Oakes Fegely. And though that cast would make for a relatively funny comedy, but War with Grandpa is exactly the opposite. Its familiar premise and cornball comedy is a product of an earlier time, one without the typical jokes about attacks on the youth being wasted on the young and how the elderly is unable to cope with the current technology.
War with Grandpa has a reasonably simple plot centered on Peter (Oakes Fegley), a sixth-grader who has to adjust to a new school. But when his recently widowed grandfather Ed (Robert De Niro) moves in with Peter’s family, because of a series of incidents involving the police, the boy is forced to give up his most prized possession of all, his bedroom. Angry with his new living arrangement, Peter hopes to drive his grandpa out of the house by pranking him. However, grandpa retaliates with his pranks in hopes that Peter will stop. The two eventually realize that this means war. But when their antics get out of hand, they know that they have much more in common than initially thought.
Maybe the redundant pranks and jokes would have landed had a film like this been released in a different time. Back then, my nine-year-old self would have thoroughly enjoyed the slapstick humor and hijinks that comes with these kinds of films. But now that it is 2020, this kind of comedy just reminds us of how things like Home Alone were hilarious.
These practical jokes can range from Peter replacing shaving cream with quick foaming sealant or loosening golf clubs to Grandpa Ed unhinging Peter’s bedroom furniture or destroying his Minecraft castle. These harmless jokes take its toll when the attacks start getting more personal. And, of course, there are some unexpected causalities – some of which inadvertently benefitted each other. But when they both decide that it has reached its boiling point, they choose to end by pulling one final big prank on each other.
There are a few mild laughs, at best, that could be found in a film like this. Honestly, this feels more like the obligatory “I can do family-friendly comedies” for some of the cast. The jokes are generic and relatively predictable. It doesn’t have to work that hard not to subtly remind its audience about the importance of appreciating the family that we have. Throw in a few obligatory De Niro references, of which will probably go over the kids’ heads, but it will at least make it tolerable for the adults to watch.
But, I can see how it can be a hit with the kids who will probably get a kick out of the dodgeball scene, or how Ed and Peter refer to themselves as “secret warrior” and “senior soldier,” respectively. Amid that war, they try to make peace. Whether that is through Ed bribing one of Peter’s sisters to recreate a UN resolution/peace talk, or a peaceful fishing sequence. The former works in a way that sticks to the idea of satirizing a domestic dispute. But the latter feels out of place. And then there’s Peter’s sister who is dating a boy against her mother’s wishes. Why that subplot was added into a 90-minute film is beyond me as it really does nothing for the characters involved because it doesn’t tie into the plot of the film, which is in the title.
Even some of the editing seems out of place. The subplots feel like they are just padding for runtime and don’t add anything to the film. One subplot sees Ed teaching her daughter (Uma Thurman) about not being so hard on her eldest teenage daughter for dating a boy. Another briefly shows us the sibling relationship between the eldest daughter and her younger sister. They engage in a prolonged shushing match that goes on a lot longer than it actually should. Again, this feels out-of-place because it doesn’t have to do much with the film as a whole.
The thing is, ‘The War with Grandpa’ family-friendly comedy that is not for me. But when people feel uneasy about an uncertain future, maybe families could use something that is simple and fun to help them forget about the stresses that await them outside of the theater.
In theaters October 9, 2020