A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Undercover Grandpa is a tween-friendly Canadian action/adventure starring James Caan as a grandfather with a secret past who enlists his old war buddies to find his teen grandson's kidnapped date. Although there's violence (both with weapons and in the form of hand-to-hand combat), the kidnapping premise sounds scarier than it is. Ultimately, the movie is more of an intergenerational adventure than a kidnapping thriller (think Space Cowboys rather than Taken). Expect a bit of salty language, including "damn," "ass," "idiot," etc., as well as a brief kiss between a teen couple. Although it's not particularly memorable, it does offer positive messages about intergenerational friendships and not taking grandparents (or their generation) for granted.
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What's the story?
UNDERCOVER GRANDPA is about 17-year-old Jake (Dylan Everett), a nerdy Canadian teen with a massive crush on his beautiful childhood friend, Angie (Greta Onieogou). After finding out that Angie has finally broken up with her boyfriend, Jake asks her to a classmate's party, and she agrees. But their first date gets off to an annoying start when Jake's mom says he has to stay for his family's bi-weekly dinner with Grandpa Lou (James Caan). Things take an unexpectedly dramatic turn when, on the way to drop Grandpa off at the nursing home after dinner, Angie calls to ask whether Jake can pick her up from where her car broke down in an abandoned industrial neighborhood. When Jake and Grandpa finally get there, it's clear (to Grandpa) that Angie has been kidnapped. Grandpa then reveals that he has the specific skills necessary to rescue Angie, who's being held by fictional foreign bad guys. Hesitant at first, Jake eventually agrees to help Grandpa enlist his old war buddies (including Louis Gossett Jr. and Paul Sorvino) for one last mission to rescue Angie.
Is it any good?
This mildly amusing intergenerational adventure serves as a melancholy reminder of how Hollywood disregards acclaimed actors like Caan, Sorvino, and Gossett in their golden years. Directed by Canadian TV veteran Erik Canuel, Undercover Grandpa explores the well-used cliche that "old folks" still have plenty to teach younger generations about, well, pretty much everything. Jake might think he knows his "senile" and nursing-home-dwelling grandfather, but the truth is far more complicated. Caan, who's no stranger to action or holding a weapon on screen, inhabits the character of Lou well, even though he'd probably enjoy having a meatier role to play. Jessica Walter, of Arrested Development fame, plays a Canadian officer who has both a professional and romantic history with Lou. As for the young 'uns, Everett and Onieogou are believable as old friends on opposite sides of the popularity spectrum who are predictably brought closer by their intense circumstances.
The team of old war friends doesn't have too much to do, which is a shame; the award-winning actors who play them deserve more substantial material. But the story's biggest drawback is the subplot surrounding the reasons Angie was kidnapped. That the villains are from a vaguely Eastern European fictional country will take viewers out of the story, and the fact they nabbed Angie for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, while plausible, is never fully explained. Still, despite Undercover Grandpa's flaws, it makes for a fairly entertaining pick for family movie night -- particularly if it's at Grandpa's house.
Talk to your kids about ...
What's the movie's message about Grandpa and his friends? What does Jake learn from his grandpa? Why do you think there aren't many movies featuring actors over 70?
How do you feel about stories that incorporate fictional places into otherwise realistic contexts? Is it confusing to have both a real country (in this case, Canada) and a fake one?
- In theaters: July 7, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: August 8, 2017
- Cast: James Caan, Jessica Walter, Dylan Everett
- Director: Erik Canuel
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence and suggestive material
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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