'The War with Grandpa': Film Review

The War With Grandpa
101 Studios

101 Studios' 'War With Grandpa.'

Somebody wave a white flag already.
10/9/2020

Robert De Niro plays a widower battling with his grandson in this family comedy, also featuring Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin.

The last time Oscar winners Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken appeared together onscreen, they were playing a tragic game of Russian roulette in the classic 1978 film The Deer Hunter.

Reunited for the first time in 42 years in the family comedy The War with Grandpa, they play dodgeball…on trampolines. (Insert your own sigh here.)

Of course, the juvenile target audience for this effort, which makes the Home Alone films seem sophisticated, will have no awareness of the two actors' storied careers. Or that Uma Thurman is an Oscar nominee herself. Or that Cheech Marin…well, it's probably best they don't know what he used to partake in.

Apparently unfulfilled by having recently played a dirty grandpa, De Niro once again assumes a codger role for this very different sort of comedy relying on slapstick and pratfalls. Whether his character is manhandling a corpse, accidentally exposing himself to a horrified onlooker not once but twice, or falling flat on his face, the actor seems game for anything. He plays Ed, a widowed home contractor who, after various mishaps including an unfortunate incident involving a grocery self-checkout machine, moves into the suburban home of his daughter Sally (Thurman), her husband Arthur (Rob Riggle) and their three children: boy-crazy teenage Mia (Laura Mararno), sixth-grader Peter (Oakes Fegley, so impressive in Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck) and Christmas-obsessed tyke Jennifer (Poppy Gagnon, bringing irresistible cuteness to a new level).

Trouble results when Ed is given Peter's room and the disgruntled middle-schooler is consigned to an attic plagued by both bats and rats. Peter promptly declares war on his grandfather, who accepts with bemusement after both parties agree to some rules of engagement, including not telling anyone else in the house. Much in the way of physical hijinks and extreme pranks, if not hilarity, ensues.

Harmless to its viewers if not its characters (much of what transpires could be labeled as either child or elder abuse), The War with Grandpa will probably prove riotously funny to small fry while providing some compensations to adults with its supremely overqualified cast. There are some amusing meta-style moments, including a scene of De Niro talking to himself in a mirror, that might provide the intended knowing chuckles. The humor is mostly low-brow to the extreme, however, involving much wanton property destruction and such scenes as a helpless Ed being forcibly restrained and tranquilized by overeager EMTs when his grandson secretly sets off his medical alert device. Director Tim Hill (Hop, Alvin and the Chipmunks), clearly no stranger to this sort of thing, stages the childish mayhem proficiently while also providing some tender moments along the way.

The principal fun comes from the slyly droll interplay among De Niro, Walken and Marin (the last two playing Ed's fellow retirees enlisted in his war), who lean into their vulgar old-men schtick with the sort of relaxed humor that suggests they were either having a good time or looking forward to a nice paycheck. Thurman does what she can with her thankless role, which at one point includes screaming with terror when a snake suddenly slithers over her while she's driving, while Riggle seems thrilled to be sharing the screen with a film legend. Jane Seymour provides a dose of much needed, low-key charm as a love interest for De Niro, while young Fegley handles his extensive chores like a pro.

Available in theaters
Production companies: Brookdale Studios, Marro Films, Ingenious, Sigh Films Limited, West Madison Entertainment, Tri G Films, EFO Films
Distributor: 101 Studios
Cast; Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Laura Marano, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, Christopher Walken, Juliocesar Chavez, Isaac Kragten, T.J. McGibbon, Poppy Gagnon, Lydia Styslinger
Director: Tim Hill
Screenwriters: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember
Producers: Marvin Peart, Rosa Morris Peat, Phillip Glasser
Executive producers: David C. Glasser, Dvid Hutkin, Bob Yari, Saul P. "Sonny" Schwartz, Ken Ross, Christina Papagjika, Matthew Salloway, Elizabeth Cree, Erik McManus, Chad Doher, Richard Barner, Grant Cramer, Guy Fieri, Joe Gelchion, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Ted Fox, David Lubotta, Myles Nestel, Craig Chapman, Charles Auty, Jane Rosenthal, Berry Welsh, Tre Peart
Director of photography: Greg Gardiner
Production designer: John Collins
Editors: Craig Herring, Peter S. Elliot
Composer: Aaron Zigman
Costume designer: Christopher Hargadon
Casting: Roe Baker

Rated PG, 94 min.