Remote Control Grandpa (2007) – By Duane L. Martin

 Remote Control Grandpa is about a kid named Forrest who lives with his grandma and loves to play video games, and his slacker, pot head friend Spencer, who’s renting a room at grandma’s house. Grandma’s an old hippie, and when she goes out of her way to get herself arrested trying to save an old tree that’s going to be cut down, grandma’s ex, an old military war horse, must come and live there for thirty days until she gets out of jail. The boys are ordered around relentlessly until they discover that the military implanted a chip in grandpa’s head while he was in Vietnam. The chip is like a hypnotic something or other that keeps him hypnotized into being a good soldier. He has a control box that he keeps with him that when someone talks into it, they can either issue him voice commands or make him repeat anything that’s said into the box. Once they disover they can control him, Spencer turns into a total ass and starts working the old guy to death and getting him to max out his credit card buying him gifts.

The side story to all this is that the Army has run low on recruits and they’re trying to recruit video game players because they’ve already been desensitized to killing and violence. To that end, they released a game and started a competition where they would pay one million dollars to the whoever could win a tournament of their new game. Forrest desperately wants to win, but finds it hard to practice with grandpa around. Eventually they find out from the chip’s inventor that heavy exposure to pot smoke can burn out the chip. When Spencer scores some super weed, they expose grandpa to the smoke while he’s sleeping and that morning, he wakes up his former self – a peace loving hippie musician – and one who doesn’t want Forrest taking part in the Army’s game competition.

Ok, I’m not even going to lie here. This movie annoyed the hell out of me. Basically, the whole message of this movie is, the hippies are the good guys and the Army are the bad guys that get off on killing women and children and torturing people. Oh…and also that smoking pot is cool. Even in the video game put out by the Army there was a section of it where he has to go through a hospital nursery killing women and babies and what not. One of the other video games he had was something about Abu Ghraib. Etc… Then there were the parts of the movie where they were talking smack about our military personnel and our mission in Vietnam. The film is full of one anti-military message after another.

Why does this annoy me? Well, for many reasons. First, I don’t like being beaten in the head with an agenda while I’m watching a film that’s supposed to be an entertaining comedy. When you beat people over the head with stuff like this, you instantly alienate at least half your audience who doesn’t agree with you. Second, I bet there are a lot of good military personnel and their families and the families of military folks who were killed in battle that wouldn’t find any of this the least bit funny. Third, when you get a film like this that makes leftist comments about the military, it always comes off as being really snotty and arrogant. I have never been in the military, but I do support them and appreciate the sacrifices they make, and have always made for us throughout the history of this country. My father fought in the Korean war and saw a lot of good men die around him. I’m grateful every day he wasn’t one of those who didn’t make it.

That said, I didn’t like or appreciate this movie even a little bit, nor did I find it at all funny. However, those are my personal feelings towards it. As a critic, I owe it to the film and the film maker to also give an unbiased critique of the film. So here it is…

The acting in this film ranged from decent to quite good. Forrest, played by Brennan Burke-Martin, did a great job in his role and is actually a fine young actor. His friend Spencer, played by Wesley Abels, wasn’t too bad, but the character was really annoying. Mostly I just wanted to reach through the screen and smack him. Rick St. Charles was really good as Grandpa, but his performance was actually probably better once he turned back into a hippie.

On a technical level, the camera work and the sound were both done quite well and the film moved along at a decent pace. The lighting was quite good throughout the film, and the set design wasn’t overdone at all and seemed to tie everything in each scene quite nicely together. The sound was good as well, with no problems hearing the dialogue at all.

The story, aside from my reasons for not liking it, was actually rather boring. Taken in a different direction, this could have been a funny and really entertaining film. As it is, it starts off on a rather level plane of blah and never really goes up or down on it. It just stays kind of blah all the way through. The only kind of fun part of the film is at the end when we get to see hippie grandpa getting electrocuted repeatedly every time Forrest uses a weapon in the game. Even that was done for snotty, hippie pacifist reasons though, so it kinda took away some of the enjoyment for me even in seeing him tortured.

On a technical level, there’s really nothing to complain about with this movie. On a story level, even putting my personal feelings aside, the fact that it was made to sound like a comedy and then ended up just not being funny, really ruined it for me.

Would I recommend it? Again, personal feelings aside, if someone’s looking for a great, entertaining comedy, this film would definitely not be on my list of recommendations. If someone wanted an example of a technically decent independent film however, I could find a spot for it on my list somewhere I’m sure.

The DVD special features include screen tests, rehearsals, outtakes, deleted scenes, trailers and two other short films.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s website at http://www.remotecontrolgrandpa.com.