Except for a brief period as a pre-teen and a short stint teaching middle school, I’ve spent most of my life avoiding twelve-year-old boys. This makes me the wrong audience for the new feature film, War with Grandpa. True, filmmakers try to lure a broader, family audience that includes adults by hiring a terrific older cast. Robert de Niro plays the title’s Grandpa, his mob movie credentials making him a tough opponent for anyone, even a twelve-year-old boy. Also playing to their movie track records, Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin step in with their own brands of humor.
Female representation comes from Jane Seymour, while Uma Thurman works as a bridge between the older and younger crowds. Oakes Fegley from the Pete’s Dragon remake leads the youth in a clear attempt to channel Macauley Culkin and the five Home Alone movies. But Fegley and his character miss it for me because of an innate selfishness in motivation, plus overall meanness to the story’s pranks.
Rather than defend his home from outsiders, Fegley’s middle schooler attacks his own family, which puts a different edge to his purpose. I might feel differently if I could change into a twelve-year-old boy; after all, many pranks bear the same elements as the ones that made so many people laugh in Home Alone, which featured such dangerous techniques as hot tar, iced stairs, and a flamethrower of sorts. Still, Home Alone pranks came from self-protection rather than self-gratification, which puts a nicer spin on the story.
Overall though, I prefer modeling less dangerous pranks, which leads me to Mark Rober’s webpage and more visual entertainment than many comedies provide. A former NASA engineer who quit his job to record a series of inventions, Rober challenges bad guys without permanently hurting them. This includes the squirrels who started raiding his backyard bird feeders—the resulting obstacle course almost made me appreciate the ingenuity of furry raiders in my own backyard. Rober credits the original Home Alone as inspiration for another of his pranks, the glitter bomb designed to track those nasty thieves who steal packages off other peoples’ porches. A grown-up Macauley Culkin joins the fun in part two of the glitter bomb battles. Generally, thieves and squirrels seem much more deserving of pranks than grandpas, even if cinema’s Godfather plays his own mean tricks.
Robin Holabird is a former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office and a longtime KUNR entertainment reviewer. Catch her commentary Fridays during Fresh Air, between 2:37 and 2:47 p.m.
KUNR's Jayden Perez adapted this story for web.