By Preston Wilder
Time moves on, legends lose their lustre. Kevin Costner hasn’t been a box-office draw since the one-two punch of Waterworld and The Postman in the late 90s, indeed much of the multiplex audience for Criminal will surely be enticed by Ryan Reynolds rather than Kev – but Reynolds, best known as Deadpool, is just plain dead for most of this one. Instead we have Costner trying (yet again) for a comeback – not by resurrecting the folksy-heroic persona he wore in Field of Dreams or The Untouchables but by playing the kind of character he essayed in A Perfect World, a stunted sociopath with empathy issues.
Does it work? Not really. Costner – especially 61-year-old Costner – is too shrewd an actor for Jerico Stewart, who (we’re told) “has no sense of proportion” and “does not understand society”. With his calculating eyes and easy authority, Costner doesn’t come across as that kind of unmoored loser/loner; simply put, he lacks insanity. The plot has a certain appeal, though, blending Jason Bourne with those mad-science movies where someone plays God – that someone, in this case, being Tommy Lee Jones, a glum-looking scientist who’s figured out a way to transfer consciousness from a dead person to a live one. The dead person, as already mentioned, is Ryan, a CIA agent killed by soft-spoken villain Jordi Molla (who’s introduced with the caption “Spanish Anarchist”; is that a job description now?). The live one is Kev, rescued from Death Row due to having “frontal lobe syndrome”, a rare psychosis that makes the procedure easier.
The film goes through stages, the most entertaining being the middle one where Costner is let loose on the streets of London showing off his psycho side, which apparently translates to jumping queues and punching Brits in cafés (the Brits respond with hilarious lines like “Not worth the kerfuffle” and “That’s bang out of order”), while also being invaded – much to his chagrin – by Ryan’s nice-guy brain cells, so for instance he’ll say ‘Cheers’ then be furious with himself for saying it. The most poignant and promising stage comes when Kev meets the dead man’s wife and daughter, feeling all of Ryan’s old feelings but only at one remove, emotion in general being alien to him. That’s when the film threatens to become quite memorable, a vivid picture of a mind divided – but it cops out, collapsing back into silly action (a cactus plant?) and Gary Oldman yelling! every! word! And Costner? Hate to say it, but I don’t think he’s the best man for the job.
Robert De Niro, on the other hand, is perfectly cast in Dirty Grandpa, the systematic evisceration of his legendary rep having become the Great Man’s personal project for the past 15 years – and what better vehicle than a coarse teen comedy with the former Travis Bickle as a senior-citizen teenager? (It’s a natural progression from his 70-something 20-something in The Intern.) Paired with Zac Efron, who’s back to being clean-cut after trying on a bad-boy style in his past few films – this one suits him better – De Niro makes it very clear that he’s horny, irresponsible and requires urgent sex with nubile young women, indeed “I want to f*** till my dick drops off”. His wife made him promise on her deathbed, or at least instructed him to “get back in the game” after 40 years of being faithful. So that’s all right then.
I was dreading this film, but in fact I quite enjoyed it – mostly because it’s shameless, no-holds-barred and absolutely honest about what it’s doing, which is to be as outrageously crude as possible. Never mind being coy about drugs, great clouds of smoke waft over the action (“It’s a gateway drug,” bleats Zac on being offered weed; “Well, you just opened the gateway to being a pussy!” chides dirty Grandpa) and the local drug dealer is beloved by all, not least the cops. Never mind concerns about a creepy/inappropriate age difference, naughty college girl Aubrey Plaza is all over the old man, who needs no encouragement. Grandpa masturbates, derides uptight Zac as “vagina repellent”, is offensive to women and minorities and also does one-handed push-ups, having been a Green Beret back in the day.
All this might’ve been disgusting, but in fact the gleeful, wish-fulfilment hedonism and rejection of everything bourgeois has a tinge of genuine anarchy (also in the mix: a penis swastika and a fluffy bumblebee attached to Zac’s crotch, which attracts the attention of a small child). The film has no ideas, though, and mostly repeats itself after the one-hour mark. It’s not going to restore De Niro’s reputation, yet he seems more himself in this disreputable trash than in something respectably tepid like The Big Wedding – and besides, like in old rival Pacino’s Scent of a Woman (which admittedly was made 20 years ago), having sex is “my last stand”, an old man’s defiant curtain-call. The use of Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’ over 72-year-old De Niro’s first appearance is oddly moving, even if a song so beautiful has no business appearing in a film so sleazy. Time, the great leveller of legends.
DIRECTED BY Ariel Vromen
STARRING Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot
US 2016 113 mins
DIRECTED BY Dan Mazer
STARRING Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza
US 2016 102 mins