God bless James Caan. The man turns 80 this year, and there was no way he was ever going “gentle into that good night,” as the poet said.
He’s still working, diving into indie fare and B-movies and cheap exploitation pics, and he generally shows up and makes sure he delivers fair value. Stream “Holy Lands” or “The Good Neighbor” to get an idea of what he still gets out of it, aside from a paycheck.
He was 76 when he made “Undercover Grandpa,” and he’s the only reason to see it, offering up a tiny taste of his lingering twinkle in a comedy that’s far beneath his talents.
It’s about a private school teen (Dylan Everett of TV’s “Pure”) who only wants to score points with fastpitch softball siren Angie (Greta Onieogou of TV’s “All American”). But he’s got to drive his beloved, yarn-spinning blowhard of a grandpa (Caan) around first.
He’s always dropping broad hints of his many exploits and adventures in covert ops, as a member of the Devil’s Scum. You tell the family you invented “KFC” during the Bay of Pigs, nobody’s going to take you seriously.
Then Angie disappears from the spot where her Mini Cooper broke down (true-to-life accuracy) and all Grandpa has to do is sniff the air and read the tire and shoe tracks to know what went down.
“There’s more than one of them. That’s not good.”
As he tries to convince the kid,m who is “tired of everybody telling me what to do,” we gather that this war criminal on the lam (Paul Braunstein) might be behind it. And before Grandpa’s old boss (Jessica Walter), running her covert ops HQ out of the basement of the local sanitation plant, can stop them — Grandpa is “getting the team back together.
So we’ve got a more PG than PG-13 “RED,” with Louis Gossett Jr., Paul Sorvino, Kenneth Welsh and Lawrence Dane as the elderly experts in camo, weapons, tech and tactics that Grandpa used to to work with.
The script gives nobody but Caan anything amusing to say, and all of that is recycled from a dozen better movies.
“I thought you were dead.” “I don’t think so.”
We’re treated to a few threats that the stunt people and Caan back up, DeNiro in “The Irishman” style — half-speed, cautious kicks and fights where the fear of breaking a hip is obvious.
Welsh, of “Twin Peaks” back in the day and TV’s “Lodge 49” today, is gifted with the only sight gags — a deep sea “walker” and a first generation (1950ish) “computer” that he still uses.
And that’s about it, just some fairly colorless young performers teamed up with guys who mention “I have to pee eight times a night, six times in the toilet.”
Caan, Gossett, Sorvino and the rest get to work, everybody puts some effort in. But man — let’s wish for better things for everybody involved, save for the screenwriter.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and suggestive material)
Cast: James Caan, Dylan Everett, Louis Gossett Jr., Jessica Walter, Paul Sorvino and Greta Onieogou
Credits: Directed by Eric Canuel, script by Jeff Schechter A CCI Entertainment/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:39