In the next logical installment of the ever-growing “bad” genre, Florence Henderson, Pam Grier, and Sally Eaton (a St. Louis actor) play three elderly matriarchs who flirt with crime. While morally justifiable, their actions are extreme, although doled out slowly and cautiously, just like a real grandma would do. Henderson plays Mimi, who accidentally commits murder when she goes to confront the ex-son-in-law of her friend who plans to take her home. The plot becomes pretty conventional from there, as criminal cohorts of the dead low-life start looking for the money he owed them. What follows is an arms race between a middle-aged nincompoop who owns a chop shop (a surprise performance by Judge Reinhold) and a trio of frail butchers.
If anything works in this film, it’s the moments of comedy that are grandma-specific. Often in these high-concept comedies, the jokes don’t seem to mesh with the premise or relate to the central conceit. Usually it’s the typically vulgar language, toilet humor, and drug references plugged in to whatever demographic that has gone “bad”. And there is plenty of that in this movie, too, but also a fair amount of jokes related to aging, and the stereotypical behavior of the elderly. The violent acts committed by the main characters are tempered with their general plodding slowness. Pam Grier needs help getting up after dropping to her knees and bashing a bad guy’s head in. When Florence Henderson swears, it’s either quietly or with the fervor of someone who doesn’t pull out the f-bomb often, which is a very subtle note of realism. Even little bits of dialog, a lot of which was ad-libbed, had that certain bemused old-lady timbre.
There are definite setbacks to the success of this film, however. While the comedy is solid and endearing, there aren’t really many laugh-out-loud moments. Additionally, some of the scripted dialogue is garishly amateur and corny, more like a facile imitation of the way grandmas talk rather than the real thing. The pacing could have used a bit of work too. Sometimes the sluggishness of the film actually works well in the action sequences, because it emphasizes the slowness of the characters and thus accentuates the absurdity of grandmas committing crimes. But most of the time it undermines tone the film is clearly going for, and it’s not a dry enough type of humor to justify that type of rhythm. Quite conversely, its crime-thriller elements meant to incite laughs require a faster pace and story beats to create the desired snowball effect. The film really begins to flounder once the central tension is set up. This ends up robbing the film of the power in its climax and resolution, as it feels as if it were on the same level as every other scene in the film.
As it is playing at the St. Louis Film Festival, which Pam Grier will be visiting, Bad Grandmas might be worth seeing for curiosities sake, or for a bit of a risqué comedy romp for your actual grandma. There also several local actors in it, which creates some novelty. Otherwise, it isn’t the sort of thing I’d recommend for a general cinema excursion. | Nic Champion