Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

Listen to this article

I suppose everyone is entitled to have a little fun at work. So I’m taking that into account as I come to terms with Robert De Niro’s latest comedic foray, “The War with Grandpa,” a harmless trifle an upstart distributor company is throwing into empty multiplexes in an effort to lure people back.

(While I’m sure there is a movie I would say is worth the risk to go see, I can’t think of one right now. However, I can say without hesitation that “Grandpa” is NOT that film.)

Having been picked up during the Miramax fire sale by 101 Studios, this has been on the shelf for three years, and unlike fine bourbon, I don’t think it’s gotten better with age.

Based on the young-adult novel by Robert Kimmel Smith, the movie is a kid’s film with a worthwhile message and more than enough slapstick moments to satisfy its target audience, namely tweens who have yet to come to appreciate complex narratives.

The hero is Peter (Oakes Fegley), a likable sixth-grader who has his share of teenage woes. Not only is he getting bullied at school, but he’s been displaced in his own home.

Seems his grandpa, Ed

(De Niro), a lonely widower who’s becoming a bit too forgetful for his daughter’s (Uma Thurman) comfort, has moved in and been given his room.

Relegated to the attic, Peter decides this aggression will not stand. After a few passive-aggressive acts that make it clear to Gramps he’s not happy, the two sit down, draw up rules of engagement and embark on what starts out as a series of good-natured, tit-for-tat practical jokes, which escalate to elaborate, well-coordinated efforts that could only be pulled off with a large special-effects budget at your disposal.

The physical gags are hit and miss, some inspired, others labored and predictable.

Also labored and predictable are De Niro’s geriatric co-stars, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour.

(I’m hoping the casting director offered Seymour’s part to Meryl Streep in an effort to pull off a “Deer Hunter” reunion with De Niro and Walken. If so, she had the good sense to pass. If not, file this one under “Missed Opportunity.”)

These three show up for an easy paycheck and prove that despite their collective chops, they just can’t find a way to make a dodgeball game funny.

I’m not ashamed to say I laughed out loud a few times.

Surprisingly, director Tim Hill gets more mileage out of De Niro accidentally exposing his junk than you’d expect, while a big reveal during an elaborate birthday party that jumps the rails proves far funnier than it had any right to be.

And the message Ed was able to convey to Peter about the futility and insanity of war is delivered with a sincerity that cuts through the shenanigans.

I’ve seen much better. I’ve seen much worse. And while I could have spent the time doing anything else, at least it didn’t offend me like the recent “Unhinged” and “Antebellum.”

I guess I’ll chalk that up as a small victory. It’s been that kind of year for movies.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.