We are all in dire need of a really good belly laugh right now in the current global pandemic climate. Supporting local cinemas so that big-screen outings can continue is more crucial than ever. The time has never been better for a really good family film to clean up at the box office, which Tim Hill’s The War With Grandpa is actually doing in the States right now, taking on the likes of Christopher Nolan’s PG-13 Tenet.
Sounds like a safe bet so far. Indeed, it does have an amazing cast headed by Meet the Fockers comedic ace, Robert De Niro, an actor with guaranteed box office clout. He is also backed by a powerhouse of talent in Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, Uma Thurman and Rob Riggle. Throw in a family dispute to settle, and War with Grandpa is well on its way to being a potential winner.
Hold fire though. As a 7 year-old watching asked; why is Peter (Oakes Fegley) suddenly so upset at Grandpa Ed (De Niro) moving in? In a rush to get to show off the pranks (and the budget spend), there is a distinct lack of build up to Peter’s true breaking point, before he calls time on the situation. After some housekeeping and issues are fixed, Peter being moved into the large attic room and making a great den is the stuff of a lot of kids’ dreams.
After having great expectations of a 2020 Home Alone-style film, Peter’s grievance also seems a trifle excessive to warrant all-out war with an elderly relative who appears very fond of him and doesn’t want to be there either. In this respect, De Niro’s deadpan expression and screen-gangster-role pedigree at play are always a tonic to watch as he makes his disapproval known, especially as this spritely pensioner has his wings clipped by over-protective daughter Sally (Thurman).
This raises the big question: Shouldn’t Ed’s grievance actually be directed at parents Sally and Arthur (Riggle), not Grandpa? They have created their son’s initial problem – and a brat in the process that makes it hard to root for Peter. Though Sally does get the brunt of the jokes which provides some humour from Thurman, this huge plot conundrum simmers below the surface as that the pranks are directed at the wrong person/s to begin with. One truce scene between Peter and Ed out on a boat demonstrates that these characters are better as a force united to do their worst, even though this film is based on a much-loved children’s book.
The only hope for The War with Grandpa after this is just to sit back and watch Ed and his life-loving mates get jiggy with Peter’s gang and another deserved wrong-doer. This is where the film is momentarily saved, especially as Walken’s antics and comments gleefully kick in. The rest of the juvenile tit-for-tat moments between Peter and Ed thrill younger viewers because they like to be proven right at the outcome. For the rest of us, the punchline can be seen from the other side of the room before we have even reached it. There is nothing new to see either that hasn’t been done before in such a comedy. Is expecting the expected enough though?
As amusing as Riggle’s emasculated husband character is at times, the actor has to work very hard at setting up the gags. The running joke of seeing more of his father-in-law than he needs to, and reminding all (including the audience) that he requires his wife’s approval before being allowed to do certain things wears very thin. As always, there is a cute kid sister (tick) and cute older sister (tick) to add to the household medley, the former of which tries to appease the situation in typical adorable fashion and is deemed wiser than her years in the end.
The War with Grandpa is watchable for its stellar cast who deliver as expected of them. On the flip side, they are also the film’s Achilles heel because they highlight its banal set-pieces, however well-meaning the morals are in the rosy end. Still, if the promise of a fairly average slapstick comedy can entice people back to the big screen at present, the irony is War with Grandpa should be applauded as an unlikely ‘family flick saviour’ this year.
The War with Grandpa is out October 16th in the UK.