“Blood Father” and “Dirty Grandpa”
At a bikie gang reunion, alongside a camp fire, Lydia (Erin Moriarty) is getting a lecture. Preacher (Michael Parks), leader of the once thriving club, is attempting to explain the significance of not only club life, but legitimise the trials of his generation. As she looks over at her father John Link (Mel Gibson), Parks’ mellifluous voice takes what on paper must look like the last gasps of air sneaking out the Baby Boomer generation’s coffin, and elevates it to a poignant indictment of Gen Y. Moriarty’s puzzled, offended and then perplexed expression says it all. There are flashes of pathos in this by the numbers, borderlands “careless actions by stupid daughter brings tough old bastard of a dad out of retirement” Blood Father, but they appear rarely.
John Link is an ex-con living out his post incarceration years in the desert, splitting his time between alcoholics anonymous, with sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy), and tattooing locals from his trailer, which serves as a home office. Lydia, John’s daughter has disappeared, which we see in the copies of the missing person notices plastered on John’s trailer walls. However, Lydia’s disappearance is not the result of kidnapping however, but rather her falling into a relationship with Cartel expansionist Jonah (Diego Luna). When Jonah and his crew drag Lydia into a home invasion and force her hand to kill one of their hostages to prove her loyalty she accidentally puts a bullet in her boyfriend and flees into her father’s arms.
Link feels like a perfect Mel Gibson character at this time of his career. He’s cynical, tired, and has made too many mistakes to count and at the time we approach him, he’s in a community of other ex-convicts and ex-alcoholics; which is essentially the case for the ‘movie jail” Gibson, recovering from holocaust denial, leaked arguments with Russian brides and highway “sugar tits” slurs. In the film, just as in life, there are moments where we get to see this terrifically intense performer and his piercing blue eyes emerge from behind his now weathered and lined face. The miles on Gibson, so-to speak, are occasionally used to great effect and you yearn for his redemption (this was Martin Riggs and Mad Max for God sake).
Macy’s Kirby is a great voice of reason; he can’t help Link be better if he’s got the impulse to relapse with either alcohol or violence. He’s got a wiry toughness and a care. Erin Moriarty’s Lydia is a Maggie Grace clone from Taken. So much of her performance is Lydia slavishly following one foolish impulse after another. Her character is an indictment of a mother who has all but washed her hands of her existence and a father whose past has been made useful in situations to get her out of significant trouble; but that’s about all. Villains are one dimensional. Cartels are the new Black. Even when an actor like Diego Luna has the reigns, it relies heavily on the scripting. Parks can do no wrong as the former biker leader.
Writer Peter Craig (who also wrote the novel) and Andrea Berloff are trying their best to elevate the predictable vengeance elements of the story with a very specific redemptive story tied to Link’s involvement with his biker gang and a long tenure in jail, developing contacts. Those elements feel like digressions and fillers in the broker pace of the film. Jean-François Richet is unmemorable as a performance director; especially because those veterans like Gibson, Parks and Macy are the only characters that register an impact. There are some beautifully composed establishing shots of the Spartan dwellings alongside the said desert landscape.
Blood Father is by the numbers retirement vengeance with the window dressing of a U.S borderlands/Cartel thriller. Despite a grizzled Gibson and Parks’ lightning energising the lagging middle of proceedings; it chokes on its own blood from the onslaught of better vengeance genre films, a la Blue Ruin, or cartel thrillers like Sicario.
Nothing like a family crisis to give an old relative something to make them feel useful. Dirty Grandpa gives new widower Dick Kelly (Robert Deniro), Jason Kelly’s (Zac Efron) blood grandfather, an opportunity to travel to retirement quarters in Florida with his grandson prior to his wedding. The trip goes off course when Old Dick wants to have sex with the college girls in Florida (because Spring Break bitches) and he sees his once artistic and bohemian nephew Jason following the tried and true path of his father.
Director Dan Mazer and writer John Phillips feel like they were clutching at some fairly flimsy ideas for Dirty Grandpa and attempted to clumsily merge them together. While there’s the thinly veiled attempts to get Jason to re-evaluate whether it’s the right thing for him to be getting married, the film centres on De Niro and Aubrey Plaza’s inevitable filthy sex act. No matter how many brief yucks you get out of Plaza’s sledge hammer advances or De Niro attempting the kind of fast talking sex talk; you feel desperation. Even with accidental crack smoking and tearing his life apart one nearly nude dance on the beach at a time, Ephron feels lifeless. The side characters too – Mo Collins’s Officer Finch, Henry Zebrowski’s Officer Reiter, Jason Mantzoukas’s Pam and Happy Endings’ own Adam Pally as Cousin Nick feel like they’re punching so hard to get to that laugh and looks like Mr Burns from The Simpsons taking on a heavy bag.
Dirty Grandpa is a film that almost makes you want to relegate the great De Niro to movie jail. He needs to go out to the same trailer park for ex-convicts where Gibson’s Link began Blood Father and think about his choice to do this film.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Blood Father (2016) – 2/5
Dirty Grandpa (2016) – 1/5
Cast & Crew:
Blood Father (2016) 2/5
Directed by: Jean-François Richet
Written by: Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff
Mel Gibson … John Link
Elisabeth Röhm … Ursula
William H. Macy … Kirby Curtis
Thomas Mann … Jason
Diego Luna … Jonah
Erin Moriarty … Lydia
Dale Dickey … Cherise
Michael Parks … Preacher
Ryan Dorsey … Shamrock
Raoul Max Trujillo … The Cleaner (as Raoul Trujillo)
Tait Fletcher … Bartender
Dirty Grandpa (2016)
Directed by: Dan Mazer
Written by: John Phillips
Robert De Niro … Dick Kelly
Zac Efron … Jason Kelly
Zoey Deutch … Shadia
Aubrey Plaza … Lenore
Jason Mantzoukas … Tan Pam
Dermot Mulroney … David Kelly
Julianne Hough … Meredith
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman … Bradley
Brandon Mychal Smith … Tyrone
Jake Picking … Cody
Michael Hudson … Brah
Adam Pally … Cousin Nick
Mo Collins … Officer Finch
Henry Zebrowski … Officer Reiter