"Dirty Grandpa" Or If Vomit Could Vomit

If vomit could vomit, the upshot might resemble alleged comedy “Dirty Grandpa” and its titular performance from 72-year-old screen icon Robert De Niro.

Directed by “Da Ali G Show” producer Dan Mazer and scripted by first-timer John Phillips, the movie functions as 95 minutes of wannabe John Waters grotesquerie without the know-how or conviction, layering bad romantic comedy tropes between a pea-soup-thick gross-out sludge. There’s no discernible rhyme or reason to any of it except for intended shock value that isn’t so much shocking as it is miserable and desperate.

De Niro can stop his tireless search for the bottom of the barrel; he’s found it. The parade of lackluster roles the actor inhabited in his 60s looks positively sublime in comparison to Dick Kelly, horny grandpa.

When the former Army man isn’t openly masturbating in front his grandson Jason (Zac Efron), sexually assaulting female golfers, or dropping n-bombs in a karaoke bar, he’s screaming profanities at rate that would give De Niro characters past a run for their money. Except there’s no meaning in or between the lines here; just unrelenting, unfunny noise.

The movie’s road movie premise – an uptight, soon-to-be-married lawyer driving his recently widowed grandfather to Florida – is nothing more than a pallid excuse for tired Spring Break shenanigans, its characters stumbling from party scene to party scene with no perceptible throughline.

If Jason isn’t as wholly embarrassing a character as his grandfather, the screenplay does its best to get him there. In a beachside scene that any self-respecting actor would justifiably refuse, Efron dons nothing but a stuffed animal thong to enthusiastically play a pedophilia gag as though he’s unearthed a comedic goldmine – all with De Niro looking on bemusedly. Somehow, it renders the script’s preceding joke – inadvertent crack smoking – completely demure.

Aubrey Plaza, best known for her wry supporting role on bygone NBC comedy “Parks And Recreation,” excitedly joins in on the self-humiliation. She plays twenty-something party girl Lenore, whose sole endeavor is to have sex with Dick. The actress’ commitment to the role is strangely commendable, as would be that of any performer trying to kill off his or her career in a single blow. She’s extraordinarily bad in the role, but it’s not quite the worst “Dirty Grandpa” has to offer.

That dishonor belongs to Julianne Hough as Jason’s fiancée Meredith. The way Meredith is painted as an unpleasant wench is intended to strong-arm us into rooting for Jason to leave her for new girl Shadia (Zoey Deutch). But it’s such an ugly, transparent stereotype that it inevitably backfires. We do hate Meredith, but we also hate Jason. And Dick. And Lenore. And everyone else onscreen, because they’re terrible characters and terrible people, both.

“Dirty Grandpa” clearly envisions itself the kind of transgressive comedy that was en vogue in the 1980s. But once the initial shock wears off, it’s just try-hard, witless, and repulsive, like a group of especially dopey middle-schoolers trading insults, their barbs either annoying or skin-crawling.

From Danny Glover’s pointless cameo as one of Dick’s old Army buddies to Dermot Mulroney’s character only serving to have penises drawn on his face, “Dirty Grandpa” is an across-the-board fiasco that only musters a few laughs out of sheer disbelief. And De Niro’s place in it all nearly cements his latter-day sins as a significant part of his legacy.

Any lost soul who identifies as a fan “Dirty Grandpa” should find him or herself on some kind of medication. Or some kind of watch list.

-J. Olson

Rating: 1/2 ★ out of ★★★★★ (Garbage)

Release Date: January 22, 2016
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Dan Mazer
Screenwriter: John Phillips
Starring: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Julianne Hough, Jason Mantzoukas, Danny Glover, Adam Pally, Dermot Mulroney
MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content throughout, graphic nudity, and for language and drug use)