Family Movie Review: The War with Grandpa (PG)

‘The War with Grandpa’ is disappointingly boring, never living up to the excitement of its premise.  

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‘The War with Grandpa’ is disappointingly boring, never living up to the excitement of its premise.  

Kernel Rating: 2 out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG   Length: 94 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. This comedy about a prank war between a grandfather and grandson engages in some low-level hijinks, some of which involve physical peril or injury: someone is ejected from a chair, people fall from not insignificant heights, someone is electrocuted, a game of dodgeball turns incredibly competitive, and there is a food fight that involves some shoving and pushing. There is also some bullying and a moment where an adult threatens a child; a character mourns his deceased wife. Some cursing and rude insults.

By Roxana Hadadi

You would think that a prank war between two generations stuck in the same house would have some excitement, but “The War with Grandpa” never really engages with its idea, and never really grabs us an audience. It’s a disappointing execution of a premise that could have been amusing but ends up surprisingly boring.

“The War with Grandpa” brings together grandpa Ed (Robert De Niro), who recently lost his wife and can’t get a hang of all the new technology he needs to learn to live on his own, and grandson Peter (Oakes Fegley), who blows a gasket when he learns that Ed is moving in, and is specifically doing so in Peter’s old bedroom. (The movie doesn’t focus long enough on how selfish Peter is being by treating his widower grandfather with absolutely zero empathy, but I suppose that’s why this is a comedy.) Convinced that he deserves his old room back, Peter declares the titular “war,” laying out terms to which Ed agrees. They’ll only attack each other. They won’t involve the rest of the family, especially Ed’s daughter and Peter’s mother, Sally (Uma Thurman), nor the other relatives with whom Ed does get along, including Peter’s sisters and father. And although each of them can bring on a few allies, for the most part, they need to be responsible for the pranks themselves.

The “war” ends up getting out of control, of course, especially when Ed enlists his friends (played by Cheech Marin and Christopher Walken, who at least seem to be having a good time), who know how to wield drones and other tech tools to fight back against Peter, but also team up to protect him from a bully. But what the film can never quite figure out is how seriously it wants to take this skirmish. Ed mentions that he’s a veteran, but that experience never comes up again in the film. Peter doesn’t really stop to ever consider what his grandfather might be going through. Sally sympathizes with her father about the loss of his wife and her mother, but the two don’t share enough scenes together to navigate their combined grief, or explore how their relationship has changed in light of her death. And although the film requires that their family be in the dark about their competition, that increasingly stretches any sense of believability. Many jokes are aimed at Peter’s father and Ed’s son in law, affably played by the always-game Rob Riggle, but there are only so many times he can feign confusion at what’s going on before the hijinks wear out their welcome.

So “The War on Grandpa” ends up in a peculiar spot: not really funny enough to work as an uproarious comedy, and not really dramatic enough to work as a family reunion film. Its narrative slightness goes down easy, but so much so that you might fall asleep.

“The War with Grandpa” is playing in theaters.