A movie ever locked in battle with its own nature, the tepid comedy "The War with Grandpa" is a slow and often painful slog with few laughs and a bitter heart.
Robert De Niro stars as Ed, a man with failing memory and physical abilities who is coerced by his daughter (Uma Thurman) to move into their too-small home. The change displaces Peter (Oakes Fegley), an entitled tween whose resentment leads him to declare war on the family patriarch.
Grampa Ed and Peter take turns pulling increasingly cruel pranks against each other, ratcheting up the stakes and intensity and cruelty to discomforting levels.
Things get ugly real quick.
The tone is off from the start, and all over the place throughout. Moments of stark and rigid antagonism are interspersed with awkwardly sweet denouements to reinforce the humanity of the main characters, as well as how much they care for each other. And that's where it goes all wrong.
Director Tim Hill ("Hop," "Alvin and the Chipmunks") probably would have been better off having gone all-in on the antagonism, making the film an absurdly cartoonish, "Home Alone"-style battle of attrition.
The supporting cast adds some of the brighter spots. Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin thrive as Ed's quirky, crotchety old pals, and Jane Seymour pops up as a love interest. Those three get most of the best lines. Thurman and Rob Riggle, who plays her character's husband, have thankless tasks as horrified onlookers whose home and livelihoods are destroyed by the devastating war of attrition between Ed and Peter.
It's difficult to side with either of the protagonists because both are coming from places of selfish recklessness. Oddly, neither seems to have feelings capable of being hurt. They inflict physical, emotional and mental pain on each other, with neither coming away with much of a sense of remorse.
As a family film, "The War with Grandpa" is equally disturbing to all ages. At least it may bring grandparents, parents and kids together in the comforting knowledge that no matter how much they struggle with their own family dynamics, their hearts are nowhere near as dark or troubled as Ed or Peter.
RATING: 1.5 stars out of 4.