Robert De Niro trades gangsters for grandkids in a funnier than expected family comedy. The War with Grandpa has a grumpy retiree in an epic prank battle with his frustrated grandson. An all-star supporting cast elevates the standard slapstick through several goofy subplots. Adapted from the novel by award-winning children’s author Robert Kimmel Smith, The War with Grandpa is a check your brain at the door experience. It’s a needed dose of levity and escapism in a world beset by bad news.
Peter Decker (Oakes Fegley) has standard eighth grade problems. He’s a middle child who’s bullied at school and relatively ignored at home. His older sister (Laura Marano) is constantly sneaking around with her boyfriend. His younger sister (Poppy Gagnon) has an annoying obsession with all things Christmas. Peter’s only respite is his sacred room, where he’s spent years building a video game castle on his computer.
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Peter’s mother, Sally (Uma Thurman), upends his life completely. Grandpa Ed (Robert De Niro) is moving into his room after an incident at the supermarket. Peter is relocated to the dreary, critter-filled attic. Peter loves his grandfather, but has had enough of his rights trampled. He issues a declaration of war against his grandfather to reclaim his territory. Ed doesn’t take Peter seriously at first, but soon realizes the kid means business. The entire family, their friends, and schoolmates become unwittingly drawn into the conflict.
Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin steal the show as Ed’s septuagenarian sidekicks. Walken gets a few chuckles as Jerry, a geezer rediscovering his youth. Marin’s “Danny” fancies himself a smooth-talking lothario, but comes off as the quintessential dirty old man. The legendary character actors add healthy infusions of humor when the script starts to lag. Comedian Rob Riggle also co-stars as Peter’s father. He’s more reactionary here, but brings his trademark facial expressions. Their scenes with Robert De Niro are the highlights of the film.
The War with Grandpa attempts to educate children about the folly of war. Pranks are funny in this context, but actual war is hell and should be avoided at all costs. This lesson is poorly executed by the filmmakers. Teachable moments are inserted like vegetables at dinner. Kids understand why they have to eat them, but get no joy when forced. The War with Grandpa needed to be smarter in this regard. An opportunity to be clever and insightful is lost between the shenanigans.
The War with Grandpa will probably be eviscerated by critics. It will be viewed as inane children’s schtick with no real socially redeeming values. I have an alternate opinion. The War with Grandpa made me laugh consistently through the entire runtime. The characters are sweet and likeable. A silly story about a kid pranking his grandpa is a welcome break from our awful reality. Children need a semblance of normalcy for their mental health. I think most families will appreciate this film. The War with Grandpa is a production of Marro Films. It will be released theatrically on October 9th by 101 Studios.
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.