(KGET) — The release of “The War with Grandpa” comes at a perfect time. The fact that local movie theaters are finally re-opening after being closed for months due to the pandemic will mean a lot of film fans will be happy with just being able to see something new. That means they will more likely be willing to overlook the weak writing and bad acting.
Sixth-grader Peter (Oakes Fegley) is living a very happy life. He has a group of good friends, his parents don’t smother him, there’s access to the latest video games and he owns a sharp pair of Air Jordans. His carefree world is thrown into chaos when his recently widowed grandfather Ed (Robert De Niro) moves in with his family.
Peter is forced to give up his bedroom and move into the attic. This action leads to a declaration of war between grandson and grandpa with the bedroom as the spoils. What starts as a friendly battle of childish pranks escalates into one of danger and destruction.
“The War with Grandpa” is based on the award-winning book by Robert Kimmel Smith. The transformation of the book to the big screen by director Tim Hill (“Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties”) along with screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember loses a lot in the translation.
The film suffers from a centrally flawed concept that a grandfather would give in to such a stupid idea knowing there is the potential of his grandchild getting hurt. And, because his grandfather comes to live in his house out of necessity and not choice, Peter comes across as a whiny brat who only thinks of himself. These ideas may work on a printed page but on screen the story comes across as cold, heartless and uncomfortable to watch.
The casting of De Niro gives the movie a tough guy quality and a big box office name but his selection doesn’t work in this type of super light family comedy. A seasoned comedian would have helped dull the edges around all of the unlikable moments as the two wage their personal assaults.
Hill stages all of the acts of war with a sitcom touch. Removing the hinges from a door so it will fall or making it so a bed will collapse are the kind of predictable scenes that will not spark laughter. Then the movie swings to an extreme where a specially rigged trapped seat becomes nearly lethal and a falling tree takes out a chunk of the house. Again, not funny.
The worst moment comes when Peter sabotages a container holding marbles that his grandfather has collected for decades. The collection has deep sentimental meaning but that’s glazed over all in the name of going for a cheap pratfall.
De Niro is at his best when he is working with Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin. Walken and Marin play the best buddies to grandpa who eventually get pulled into the family squabble. The addition of Jane Seymour to the group makes the senior citizen part of the production enjoyable enough that it is obvious a movie about them would have been far more entertaining.
The casting breaks down completely with Uma Thurman and Rob Riggle as Peter’s parents. Thurman looks bored with good reason as she has little to do. And, Riggle continues to prove acting abilities aren’t necessary to get cast in a feature film.
All that can be positively said about “The War with Grandpa” is that it marks the return of movies to theaters. It is still a good idea to wear a mask (over your eyes) and stay six feet away from a theater seat.
Grade 1 ½ stars
Rated PG for rude humor, language and some thematic elements.