Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
It may sound weird for many people to admit, but the “Jackass” movies (and television show) were some of the funniest of this generation. Who cared how juvenile the humor was when we were laughing our heads off. They were the only comedies that would allow us to not feel guilty for laughing at human punishment and general poor taste. And just when we thought the crew led by Johnny Knoxville had let it all out of their system with “Jackass 3” (for me the pinnacle of their work), the “Jackass” series comes back for one last gasp with the spinoff movie, “Bad Grandpa.”
Knoxville’s famous grandpa character Irving Zisman is the focal point here, eschewing the usual collection-of-gags format for a “Borat”-style mix of narrative and public reactions. It is not too much of a far cry from the series’ roots, as some of the funniest material came from the looks of shock from unsuspecting civilians. For this sort of humor, the angrier and more disturbed the better.
However this also exposes the not-so-surprising revelation that Knoxville and usual “Jackass” director Jeff Tremaine are better at prank tactics than actual writing. The loose story, as it were, concerns Irving’s wife dying and his daughter dumping his grandson Billy on him at an inopportune time. The story is told through a road trip framework of sorts, and as with many of these movies it’s about these two people who don’t understand each other well eventually learning to appreciate one another.
The blend between the two film styles is off-balance since we are often left wanting and waiting for the next gag to play out in public. The fictional parts between Irving and Billy have their sweet moments, which make Billy’s participation in the gags even funnier, though it often feels like filler since the written jokes and banter don’t hit as hard as the public button pushing.
Some familiar stunts are repeated here to great effect, like the vending machine bit as shown in the trailers. Possibly the funniest segment arrives when Irving barges into a black male strip club, and, well, things get downright weird. It’s scenes like this that display Knoxville’s fearless nature and willingness to put everything out there in more ways than one.
Not to be upstaged by the idiot art veteran is Jackson Nicoll as Billy. At multiple points in the story (it feels weird saying that here) when Knoxville leaves the scene, Nicoll is let loose on his own as a seemingly innocent child. Having children say lewd things is an easy way for a laugh, but Nicoll and Tremaine make it work, particularly when he gets to insist that one woman on the street looks like a stripper.
Ironically for an entry that tries to actually be coherent in comparison to the previous ones, “Bad Grandpa” ends up being more uneven than the traditional “Jackass” works. It is clear that Knoxville and Tremaine still have a little juice left in them, but perhaps it really is time to retire this infamous brand before they end up grasping thin air.