Review – War is Hell (“The War With Grandpa”)

Let it not be said that 101 & Brookdale Studios aren’t giving senior actors work these days, ’cause this ones got plenty! Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, Rob Riggle, and Uma Thurman. Too bad the script wasn’t as aged as well.


DeNiro plays ol’ curmudgeon Ed, a card-carrying AARP member who, after stealing food from a supermarket (those dang self-checkout machines!!), is forced to live with his put-upon daughter, Sally (Thurman), and her family. It’s not too bad, except that his 12-year-old grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley) has to live in the attic as grandpa has taken over his bedroom. And boy! That kid is NOT happy about it. After settling in, Peter ‘declares war’ on his grandpa and uses everything from borrowed Home Alone tricks to nasty pranks to get back at the old-timer. Consequently, Ed does likewise, as the two sign a “declaration of war” just to make it official.

Meanwhile, other subplots are running amok: architect dad (Riggle) is hard at work designing a Walmart, horny teenage sister Mia (Laura Marano) wants to bang her boyfriend, and adorbs little sister Jennifer (Poppy Gagnon) is getting ready for her super-duper Christmas/birthday party. Problem is, with this ‘war’ going on in the house, some spillage boils over and the family gets some friendly-fire. Luckily, Ed has his besties to pal around with (Marin & Walken), while Peter has a small school group for advice. As the pranks and attacks escalate with poor mom getting some of the collateral damage, it all comes to a spectacular crashing halt at Jennifer’s birthday party.

Based on Robert Kimmel Smith’s book, screenwriters Tom J. Astle & and Matt Ember (CGI kid’s movies Home and Epic, plus a bunch of TV shows) have butchered the book (I guess, I didn’t read it) into a scattershot, non-nonsensical, skit-riddled Dennis the Menace/Home Alone hybrid that is full of set-up scenes that go nowhere, unfunny moments, awful segues, and lame & contrived dialogue. And DeNiro & Walken are in this piece of junk? Astle & Ember write mostly kid stuff, which accounts for occasionally amusing moments with Peter and his dorky school pals, but writing the adult fare and situations come off as not only forced, but awkward and cringe-worthy.

I swear the actors must, at one time, went to director Tim Hill (Hop, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, other CGI kids movies) and asked him, “Why is my character saying/doing this? It doesn’t make any sense!” As bad as this movie is in the script department, I will give Hill his due. The direction was clearly geared for maximum slapstick and comedy, and it was there he did a fine job. Take the trampoline-dodgeball game at the Kid Zone, mom’s disastrous accidents, and the climactic birthday party. Those were well shot and directed to achieve and elicit some minor laughs. However, as a whole, this is nothing more than a ‘paycheck movie’ for all concerned. Stay at home at wait till hits cable.

**Currently showing only at those theaters that are open, check Fandango.com 

Dennis the Menace (1993)

*

John Hughes. You know that name, don’t you? He’s the prolific writer & director of such iconic films as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Home Alone. But starting in 1993, his writing talents went downhill with such box office disasters like Baby’s Day Out, Home Alone 3, Curly Sue, and this cinematic bomb.  

Based on Hank Ketchum’s comic strip, 5-year-old Dennis Mitchell (played by an obviously older 7-year-old Mason Gamble) is a holy terror with an innocent, angelic face living in Some Idyllic Town, USA. This kid wreaks untold anarchy and unspeakable chaos where he goes merely by being his sweet little boyish self and doing exactly what he shouldn’t do! His wrath knows no bounds and is centered on ending the life of his next-door neighbor, a cantankerous septuagenarian named George Wilson (Walter Matthau). This little boy makes Stewie from Family Guy look like a saint!

Dennis’ parents, the oblivious Henry & Alice Mitchell (Robert Stanton & Lea Thompson), just take his lethal shenanigans in stride and punish him, not with a much-needed spanking or time-out, but have him spend time with his little friends, caustic Margaret (Amy Sakasitz) and goofy Joey (Kellen Hathaway). As gruff Mr. Wilson and his doting wife, Martha (Joan Plowright) await a once-in-a-lifetime-event in their backyard (a rare orchid that only blooms once in 40 years), there’s a subplot around the corner and his name is Switchblade Sam, a dirty, filthy thief played by Christopher Lloyd who looks like Chucky all grown up.

Anyway, both Dennis’ parents have to leave town on business and leave their Pandora’s Box of a child to the Wilsons. Yeah, bad decision! With many Home Alone antics and pratfalls, Mr. Wilson becomes the object of Dennis’ insatiable bloodlust. Naturally, he ruins the super-important garden party that Mr.Wilson throws and runs away after George yells at him. On the lam, the tiny tyke o’terror runs into Sam, who turns out to be the stupidest, most inept villain around. Within a few minutes, Dennis nearly kills this man through his innocent acts of mischief. At one point I expected Sam to be torn in two, but it didn’t happen.

In the end, this blonde-haired spawn of hell captures the near-dead Sam, wins the love of guilt-ridden George, and plans to enslave the Earth without mercy or fear. This started John Hughes’ fall from grace after a career of writing some of the best films of the 80’s early 90’s. He only had one other winner later on with Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, with all his other films either bombing or doing poorly at the box office. Really sad. In this film, you can plainly see him recycling his old ideas and gags from his other films, especially Home Alone with all the slapstick stunt work.

The story, which is all about Dennis and his predilection for causing mayhem, literally gives up on itself half-way through with the introduction of Switchblade Sam, a side character thrown in for no reason other than to advance the plot. His story doesn’t even belong in this movie! And worse yet, everyone is intellectually numb! Every person treats the most obvious scenario as if they were without any brains whatsoever. It’s enough to make you scream at the screen, “How could you BE that stupid?”   

I will give kudos to Mason Gamble who carried this movie on his tiny little shoulders; not an easy thing to do at age seven and against veteran actors like Matthau and Plowright. He’s adorable, animated, mugs well for the camera, and his facial expressions are priceless. Matthau repeats his acerbic self from his 1993 Grumpy Old Men movie, so no stretch for him! The real cringe-worthy thing here is watching a fine actor like Christopher Lloyd doing such ridiculous over-the-top acting in a role that’s SO misplaced and SO miscast for this movie.

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