BAXTER — If it’s a battle for the ages moviegoers are seeking, “The War with Grandpa” may just be the comedy to leave them chuckling even after the end credits roll.
The new release at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter stars Robert De Niro as a recently widowed father strong-armed by his caring adult daughter into moving in with her family much to the outrage of his grandson, who is forced to give up his beloved room.
The 77-year-old Oscar-winning actor uses his renowned gravitas to ground the family comedy in reality even as the PG-rated movie occasionally veers into the outlandish with its moments of crude humor and cartoonish but bloodless violence.
Ed, as played by De Niro, is a retired home builder struggling at times to adapt to an ever-changing world more reliant on technology rather than personal connection.
He becomes fed up one day with a malfunctioning self-checkout machine, walks out without paying for his groceries and becomes involved in a physical altercation with a store employee. (Those who have had a negative experience with the finicky machines can probably relate.)
His loving but concerned daughter, played by Uma Thurman, convinces him after his injury to move in with her family rather than be placed in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
The “Kill Bill” star and muse of director Quentin Tarantino has a more difficult time persuading her husband, played by a henpecked Rob Riggle, and their son to go along with her grand plan.
And the family is already bursting at the seams with two other children — a semi-rebellious, boy-infatuated daughter played by Laura Marano and a Christmas-obsessed little girl played by Poppy Gagnon, who steals every scene she’s in with her sweetness and adoration of Ed.
Oakes Fegley is the antagonist of the motion picture as the sixth-grader who declares war on his grandpa after being forced to relocate from his room to the decrepit and inhospitable attic.
The 15-year-old actor is no stranger to co-starring in films with veteran actors. Audiences may remember him as the titular character in the 2016 Disney live-action remake of “Pete’s Dragon” opposite Robert Redford. In “The War with Grandpa,” Fegley’s character is also named Peter.
Ed initially attempts to dismiss Peter’s aggression and tries to simply ignore his grandson’s attempts to provoke him into fighting over the boy’s bedroom with the winner takes all.
Peter also does his best at first to acclimate to the attic because of a lack of space, but bats, mice and a leaky ceiling pushes him over the edge and causes him to turn against his grandpa.
The living arrangement does not suit either. Who can't relate to facing forces that cannot be reckoned with and changes due to time that are difficult to accept?
Peter’s school friends egg him on, however, to reclaim that which was once his, and they agree by antagonizing his grandpa with a series of pranks that soon escalate out of control.
For example, Ed applies what he thinks is shaving cream to his face only to realize when it hardens it was fast-drying foam sealant that now has adhered to his face.
Ed then enlists a motley crew of similar geriatrics in the all-out war with his determined grandson that has now become a family secret battle of wits with the boy and his companions.
Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin as Ed’s friends come to his aid while Jane Seymour is a sympathetic cashier and potentially love interest as they all engage in ways to combat the boy.
Billed as a comedy for the whole family and based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Robert Kimmel Smith, the feature film adaption has some laugh-out-loud moments.
Hijinks such as removing the screws from Pete’s chair, desk and bed causing them to collapse results in no real physical injuries but rather more a surprising assault on the child’s pride.
There’s even a nod to De Niro’s many mafia-themed films such as “The Godfather” in which Ed wakes up to discover a live snake in his bed instead of a decapitated and bloody horse’s head.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, “The War with Grandpa” holds an 88% approval rating with audiences, which often differ with professional critics’ view of crowd-pleasing films.
Director Tim Hill’s past films include such children’s fare as this year’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks” in 2007 and “Muppets from Space” from 1999.
That the feel-good film “The War with Grandpa” comes to some sort of reconciliation between the two different generations should come as no surprise to audiences but as with most struggles it is the journey that is interesting and not necessarily the outcome that is shocking.
And the feature film is surprisingly moving as it deals with real-life situations such as aging or growing up, change and sacrifice even as the slapstick humor threatens to spiral out of control.
“The War with Grandpa” may not be a perfect film, but the movie hits more often what it aims for — laughs — than misses and despite its possibly uneven tone, some will find the picture a blast.