Put simply, there’s a reason The War with Grandpa sat on the shelf for three years.
Originally slated for release way back in ye olden times of April 2017 (how young and innocent we all were then) Tim Hill’s The War with Grandpa is finally seeing the light of day in a theatrical-only release in the middle of a global pandemic. It certainly begs the question of why a decision was made to finally release it in theaters now, when so many better films are foregoing theatrical releases altogether in favor of VOD and major platform streaming due to nationwide theater closures. But in either an act of Nolan-like hubris or willful self-sabotage, The War with Grandpa has finally been unceremoniously dumped into empty theaters after more than three years on the shelf. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise to everyone involved because, in a shock to absolutely no one, The War with Grandpa is, to put it mildly…not good.
Rarely has such a star-studded cast been so disastrously deployed. Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Uma Thurman, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour all show up to be on the receiving end of some mild Home Alone-style shenanigans at the hands of Peter (Oakes Fegley), the disgruntled 6th grader at the film’s center. Upset that his grandpa Ed (DeNiro) has moved in and taken over his old room, Peter declares war on grandpa, setting up a series of pranks designed to drive the old man out of the house so that he can reclaim his old room. In return, Ed recruits some of his geriatric buddies to help put Peter in his place, escalating the hijinks until their rivalry threatens to spill over and affect the rest of the family. Put simply, it’s little more than a Disney Channel movie with an outrageous casting budget. Naturally, there’s plenty of maudlin heart-to-heart moments, as everyone learns their lesson (complete with a syrupy, paint-by-numbers score by the usually reliable Aaron Zigman), but the character motivations are so inconsistent that nothing feels earned. Momentary truces for the greater good are thrown aside with no real motivation, and the climax of the film isn’t even really related to the war at all, but everyone acts like it is anyway.
On the plus side, Christopher Walken once again reminds why he’s a national treasure, seemingly having the time of his life while playfully goofing off with buddies, but everyone else is entirely disengaged. It’s difficult to tell who the audience for this film even is; the significance of the film’s stars will likely be lost on the film’s adolescent target audience, and the adults will likely be bored to tears by the generic, vaguely mean-spirited plot. It doesn’t even have the relative charm of the similarly-spirited Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies, and that’s about as damning an indictment of such mediocrity as it’s possible to muster.