Even though “The War with Grandpa” won a weekend at the box office last October, knocking “Tenet” out of the top spot after a five-week run, the timing just never worked out for me to see the film in theaters. I actually felt bad about it, like I was missing out on the opportunity to review something relevant. I was indeed missing out on the opportunity to see a film that was scraping together just enough money to warrant a review, but I was not missing out on a movie worth reviewing.
The film stars Robert DeNiro as Ed, a senior citizen gradually falling behind in the modern world. After an incident involving one of those automatic checkout machines that infuriate everyone regardless of age, he’s pressured into moving in with his daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) and her family. Sally, her husband Arthur (Rob Riggle), their teenage daughter Mia (Laura Marano), and Christmas-obsessed youngest daughter Jenny (Poppy Gagnon) all know the new arrangement will be an adjustment, but it’s preteen son Peter (Oakes Fegley) who’s most unhappy. Ed will be moving into his bedroom, meaning that he’ll have to move up to the attic. I’ve heard other critics say that the attic in this movie doesn’t look too bad and Peter should quit whining, but it has vermin problems that I doubt Child Protective Services would let slide.
Peter “declares war” on Ed, promising to make his life miserable until he… decides to move out, I guess, even though he doesn’t exactly “want” to be there in the first place. A prank war ensues. Peter replaces Ed’s shaving cream with sealant. Ed sabotages Peter’s school report. Peter puts a snake in Ed’s bed. Ed destroys Peter’s elaborate virtual castle. In an effort to settle the rivalry once and for all, the two agree to face each other in a four-on-four winner-take-all (whatever that means) dodgeball game at a trampoline park. Why dodgeball? Why teams of four? Because this movie really wanted to film a scene at a dodgeball park and for no other reason. The game ends in a draw, and since there’s no way for two people to settle a dispute other than trampoline dodgeball, the feud seems destined to go on forever. Or at least until Jenny’s birthday party next week.
Ed’s circle of friends, and dodgeball team, include Jerry (Christopher Walken), Danny (Cheech Marin), and Diane (Jane Seymore). I was intrigued by the comedic possibilities of the wily veterans, but they let me down tremendously. With Walken, for example, I was so excited to hear that he was in this movie that I immediately broke into my requisite bad Walken impression. Then I saw the movie and noticed that Walken himself was doing an even worse impression. Cheech brings nothing to the table, and Seymore is involved in one of the dumbest twist endings of the year. The blatantly obvious one from lousy horror movie “You Should Have Left” is still worse, but I didn’t even realize this was supposed to be a twist until it was treated like one.
“The War with Grandpa” triggered some sort of chemical reaction in my brain. Watching this unfunny, unintelligent, oftentimes unnatural movie, I wanted to cry. Not because of the six dollars I spent on the rental fee or even the torturous nature of the movie’s humor, but because this was eating up 95 minutes of my valuable time. It’s a good thing I merely saw this movie at home, because schlepping to a theater in New Jersey from my home in NYC takes about an hour both ways, so at least I was able to roughly halve the time wasted. I’m temped to name this movie as the worst of 2020, but I saw even hackier stuff On Demand, so this movie will just have to settle for being the worst that got a major theatrical release.
“The War with Grandpa” is available On Demand through streaming services and likely through your local cable provider. The film is rated PG for rude humor, language, and some thematic elements. Its running time is 95 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.