What could be better than watching an acting legend gleefully masturbate (or “take a Number Three”) in front of his grandson, use the n-word more than once (because he’s down like that), and nuzzle his penis on a pillow for a practical joke? Almost anything, sadly. But that’s how low Dirty Grandpa goes, and it’s hardly the ground floor.
Robert De Niro stars as Dick (yep) Kelly, a retired army man who, after losing his wife of 40 years, asks his onetime favorite grandchild Jason (Zac Efron) to drive him from Atlanta to Boca the day after her funeral. Jason is now a harried corporate lawyer on the verge of marrying a Stepford nightmare named Meredith (Julianne Hough, strangling in pastel sweater sets) and doesn’t really have time for a road trip but he reluctantly agrees, thinking it might be a nice chance to reconnect. So the two of them jump in Meredith’s pink Mini Cooper—which Dick refers to alternately as “a giant labia,” “a tampon,” and, somewhat less creatively, “your vagina”—and set off for Florida to play golf and get to know one another again. Except Dick’s real mission—as viewers may have begun to sense from the relentless stream of single-entendre ass jokes—is to have sex after a 15-year dry spell. A handy opportunity presents itself when Jason has a chance run-in at a roadside diner with a cute former photography classmate named Shadia (Zoey Deutch); her hot-pantsed friend Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), it turns out, really digs old dudes—like, sexually. In her vagina. So Dick convinces Jason to reroute to meet them in Daytona Beach, and that’s where the spring-broke “adventure” begins.
De Niro and Efron try hard to make it work, and they both commit way more than first-time director Dan Mazer (who is mostly known for cowriting and producing projects with Sacha Baron Cohen) had any right to expect. But the movie never really leaves the gutter, mostly because screenwriter John Phillips can’t stop hitting every numbingly one-note comedy gong: Old people are horny! Smoking crack by accident is hilarious! So are swastikas and prison rape and pedophilia!
The ultimate message, of course, is supposed to be that Jason just has to loosen up to realize he needs to lose the soulless job and shrew fiancee and discover his real destiny, while Dick gets his late-life dreams fulfilled by a drunk twentysomething with daddy issues. Some of the cameos (like Jason Mantzoukas as a giddily amoral drug dealer and Adam Pally as Jason’s stoned, cornrowed cousin) are intermittently amusing. (Danny Glover, completely wasted as Dick’s old army buddy, not so much.) And a few of the jokes really are funny. Mostly though they’re just dumb: broad, crass, and depressingly repetitive. You’ll get to see Efron’s butt a lot, if that’s what you came for; it’s real, and it’s spectacular, even if the script’s endless jokes about him looking like a lesbian are not.
There could have been something sort of scamp-ish and charming about all this—two generations brought together to learn from each other and bond and maybe have some PG-13 fun. Instead, Dirty Grandpa feels like spending 100-plus minutes with a scatalogical toddler, proudly showing you what he made in his diaper. Don’t look if you don’t have to. D+