Synopsis – Upset that he has to share the room he loves with his grandfather, Peter decides to declare war in an attempt to get it back.
My Take – Over his career which spans just a little more than five decades now, as an actor, Robert De Niro has taken on enemies of all kinds and made his stand against the supernatural, serial killers, thieves, soldiers, cops, gangsters, boxers, assassins, and even potential son in laws among many others. However, even his biggest fan couldn’t have predicted that one day the two time Academy Award winner would be taking on a 12 year old.
As one would suspect, this latest from writer/director Tim Hill, known for his family films like Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Hop and the upcoming The SpongeBob Film: Sponge on the Run, which is based on author Robert Kimmel Smith‘s 1984 book, sees the Hollywood veteran in a typical preteen film which possess a simple and uncomplicated plot and is filled with the kind of middle school grotesque humor on par with films like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Yes it is predictable, and the pranks are sometimes unintelligent, but I was left delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed watching this one. Making this one a perfect recommendation from my side for a family looking an easy escape and a fun time at the recently reopened cinemas.
The story follows Peter (Oakes Fegley), an average sixth-grader, who like almost every kid his age spends his days gaming, hanging with his friends and drooling over his beloved pair of Air Jordans. However, his world turns upside down when his parents, Sally (Uma Thurman) and Arthur (Rob Riggle), announce that his recently widowed grandfather Ed (Robert De Niro), will moving in with them, and taking up Peter’s most prized possession of all, his bedroom.
Forcefully shifted into the attic, Peter is unwilling to let such an injustice stand, and convinced by his friends to respond in aggression in the form of a series of increasingly elaborate pranks to drive out the intruder, but Ed won’t go without a fight. He even enlists his own pals, Jerry (Christopher Walken), Danny (Cheech Marin) and Diane (Jane Seymour), to join the battle. Leading to an all-out war, with each side willing to stop at nothing to claim victory, without realizing the side-splitting consequences they are going to cause.
As you can predict from the premise, the film doesn’t aim very high, but director Tim Hill’s slapstick family comedy serves a couple of purposes. As I managed to chuckle quite a few times considering how the epic prank war between Grandpa Ed and Peter got more and more evolved. And the lengths that they go to just to get to one another is absolutely hilarious.
One of my favorite parts of this film is that before they go too far, they draft up the rules of engagement. Things like no civilians being hurt in the process.
Sure, Peter’s actions do come off as both strange and entitled, the type of entitlement that’s characteristic of an American preteen. But his pain and annoyance is quite real, maybe a bit too real. And in his case, bizarre circumstances do call for bizarre measures.
The filmmakers are, of course, aware of the audacity fueling the situations presented, so there’s nothing mean-spirited that could be misconstrued as elder or child abuse. All the family-friendly violence is palatable, if not entirely predictable. However, they do shy away from fully leaning into the sheer lunacy of the comedic set-ups and even recycles true-but-tired “old people can’t work technology” jokes from previous films without a refreshed humorous zing.
They lurch to tug at the audience’s heartstrings with sentiments demonstrated by the characters’ reversed coming-of-certain-age timelines. But these heartfelt ideas don’t land with much emotional impact. Like many family-themed films, this one too ends on an uplifting and happy note. The final sequences offer a heartfelt ending and a valuable lesson about family.
Thankfully the actors also seem to having fun. Robert De Niro has chosen to star in a lot of trashy comedies over the years, but here his grandpa character is incredibly grounded, making him immensely likable. Oakes Fegley’s performance doesn’t shy away from how upset Peter is he lost his bedroom. While he struggles to hit in the funny department, his pain makes him root able. Uma Thurman and Rob Riggle carve out ample screen time, and are adequate, however, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour seem kind out of place.
Laura Marano is a pure joy to watch onscreen, while Poppy Gagnon, who plays Jennifer Decker, Peter’s adorable and Christmas-obsessed younger sister, manages to be the actual standout as she makes her portrayal flawless and iconic. On the whole, ‘The War with Grandpa’ is a predictable yet fun family film which manages to be better than it has any business being.
Directed – Tim Hill
Rated – PG
Run Time – 94 minutes