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"THE WAR WITH GRANDPA"
(2020) (Oakes Fegley, Robert De Niro) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Upset that his parents are making him give up his bedroom to his grandfather who's moving in with them, a 12-year-old boy declares war on him to get it back.
PLOT:

12-year-old Peter Decker (OAKES FEGLEY) and his best friends, Steve (ISAAC KRAGTEN), Billy (JULIOCESAR CHAVEZ), and Emma (T.J. McGIBBON), find themselves at the bottom of the pecking order in school now that they've started sixth grade. Facing an eighth-grade bully, Peter -- who lives with his parents, Sally (UMA THURMAN) and Arthur (ROB RIGGLE), and sisters teenager Mia (LAURA MARANO) and preteen Jenny (POPPY GAGNON) -- soon finds himself facing a new nightmare.

And that's his widowed grandfather, Ed (ROBERT DE NIRO). With daughter Sally thinking he should no longer be living alone, she has him move in with them, forcing Peter up into the attic so that Ed can have his more easily accessible bedroom. While Peter loves his grandfather, he decides to declare war on him -- via an ever-escalating series of pranks and such -- in hopes of getting his room back. Initially amused by his grandson's actions, Ed soon follows the advice of his friends Jerry (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN) and Danny (CHEECH MARIN), to fight back.

Thus, when he's not finding himself growing attracted to electronics store employee Diane (JANE SEYMOUR) -- while Mia tries to covertly see classmate Russell (COLIN FORD) -- Ed decides to enter the war with his grandson with the only rules being they don't tell anyone else and there's no collateral damage to others.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

Seeing a picture of Macaulay Culkin recently wearing a face mask featuring the nose, mouth, and chin likeness of a character he once played reminded me just how long ago the now 40-year-old actor played that cute youngster who was mistakenly left at home by his distracted and frazzled parents only to have to save the homestead from two bumbling burglars.

Yes, that film was "Home Alone," the 1990 Christmas comedy where he played Kevin McCallister who created fairly ingenious booby-traps to ward off the intruders played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. With it playing out like a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon -- specifically sharing DNA with the old Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote shorts -- such otherwise unbelievable hijinks and shenanigans were easy to accept and enjoy.

The other thing that got me thinking about that flick this week was watching a screening link of "The War With Grandpa," another in-house, kid vs. adult battle royale offering. As written by Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember (who've adapted Robert Kimmel Smith's book) and directed by Tim Hill, however, the adversaries in play initially are on the same side. That is, before the film begins and car dealership employee Sally (Uma Thurman) has finely decided that her widowed dad, Ed (Robert De Niro), can no longer live on his own.

So, she makes him agree to move in with her and her husband, Arthur (Rob Riggle). With their two daughters -- teenager Mia (Laura Marano) and pre-teen Jenny (Poppy Gagnon) -- already sharing one bedtime and neither the attic nor the basement being suitable for dear old dad, Sally informs 12-year-old son Peter (Oakes Fegley) that he's moving to the attic so that his granddad can have his bedroom.

Already having to contend with an older bully at school, this is an unwelcome development for Peter who thus allows one of his friends to convince him that he needs to fight for what's his. And thus the boy declares war on his granddad via an official document slipped under his former (and now grandfather's) bedroom door.

The old man is initially amused and pays no heed, but after contending with a number of pranks targeting him, he allows his friends (played by Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin) to convince him to fight back. Once he establishes the rules of engagement -- no one can know and there can be no collateral damage to anyone else -- the gloves come off and the battle of pranks begin.

There's no denying the film targets pretty much the entire demographic gamut. That ranges from preteen girl behavior to dealing with bullies, teenager Mia being upset that her mom is trying to shield her from her teen boyfriend (Colin Ford), the parents trying to juggle everything, and the rest devoted to seniors -- including Ed missing his late wife but eventually striking up a friendship with a store clerk (Jane Seymour).

Notwithstanding that it can be viewed by the entire extended family together, as there's something for everyone to enjoy or at least empathize with, and the impressive cast that Hill has assembled, the film only comes off as mediocre at best.

The pranks and related hijinks aren't as inspired as one might be expecting -- with one bordering heavily in bad taste (a funeral scene involving physical manipulation of a body in a casket -- and some of the material gets repetitive (including the granddad's frontal nudity -- not seen by viewers -- ending up in front of his horrified son-in-law, and the mom tossing things out her SUV window that end up hitting the same motorcycle cop who just so happens to be stopped next to her twice).

But the biggest issue is that unlike Culkin's resourceful "kid warrior" portrayal three decades ago, the protagonist here -- based on the way he's written and Fegley is directed to play him -- comes off like an obnoxious brat. Sure, he learns his lesson (and a bigger global one) by the end and repeatedly informs his granddad that he still loves him despite the war along the way, but he's just not endearing, likable, or funny.

Perhaps some of that's due to my now older "get off my lawn" mentality. And not having seen "Home Alone" since it came out, I might have a similar reaction to the Kevin character. Whatever the case, it seems highly unlikely anyone not involved in the making of this film will have something thirty years later remind them of it. Okay, but nothing special, "The War With Grandpa" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 6, 2020 / Posted October 9, 2020


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