An entire film devoted to Johnny Knoxville’s Bad Grandpa, Irving Zisman? That should be good, shouldn’t it? Not exactly, Matt writes…
“Will the outrageous old man character really be able to carry an entire film?” Surely everyone thought this when Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa was announced. But when the first trailer, which I found genuinely funny, was released, I immediately decided I was on board. I went into this film with fingers crossed, hoping they’d be able to capture the spirit of Jackass in this new film.
Now I get to write a plot synopsis, which immediately marks this as the easiest Jackass film to review. Elderly Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) is ready to embrace the bachelor life after the death of his wife. Before he even gets a chance to indulge himself, though, his drug-addict daughter tasks him with transporting her eight-year-old son, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), cross country to his stay with his father due to her impending prison sentence. Billy has his mind on a quiet fishing trip while Irving is itching to get himself into some trouble with the ladies. They pack up the corpse of Irving’s wife and hit the road. Chaos, hijinks and bonding ensue.
I was willing Bad Grandpa to succeed. One of the things that has made Jackass so watchable is the camaraderie amongst the cast members. When you’re laughing along with the guys in the film, it almost creates the impression of watching it with friends. As such, you find yourself wincing at their pain all the more. I’ve built up such goodwill towards the Jackass team that I feel genuinely sad to report that Bad Grandpa isn’t very funny.
There are laughs in this film, but not very many. The film is a mixture of public stunts and scripted scenes. The scripted scenes are mostly there to frame and set up the stunts. There are problems with both sets. For the first half of the film in particular, the scripted scenes are awkward and full of repeated exposition.
Almost all of the film’s laughs come from the stunts, but there are problems with these scenes, too. Some of them are rehashes of old Zisman scenes we’ve already seen. Another issue is the responses they elicit, or rather fail to elicit, from the subjects of the prank. For me, the character Irving Zisman works best when his outrageous actions create conflict. Johnny Knoxville is a funny guy and his ability to exacerbate and antagonise in this disguise is a great source of comedy. For whatever reason, perhaps it was the choice of pranks or locations, most of the onlookers just seem to be confused.
The film’s big set piece, a stunt played out at a children’s beauty pageant, is funny, but even this feels unoriginal, coming years after Little Miss Sunshine used a similar finale.
I’m not sure if the uneasy feel of the film stems from the relation of the story to the stunts. The stunts are silly and light, which works well in the confines of a feature-length Jackass compilation (they’re also infrequent in Jackass, while here they have to hold an entire film together). However, the story they’ve decided to use here is held together by tragedy. Irving Zisman is newly widowed. Billy is abandoned by his mother, a drug addict headed to prison, and his father is a stranger to him, although he sees enough to know he’s utterly unpleasant. These are two displaced people forming a relationship in the scripted scenes. It’s difficult to switch between that element and the stunt scenes, where the bonding between the two rarely translates and has to take a back seat.
It’s a shame, too, because towards the end of the film the scripted scenes with Zisman and Billy are pretty good. I found it quite touching and sweet as it drew to its conclusion, certainly more so than I would have expected going in. The rapport between the two actors is good (both performances are terrific), as they seem to genuinely like each other. Unfortunately it takes a while for these scenes to warm up, and they sit uncomfortably with the stunts.
Perhaps the scene that best illustrates the awkward clash of tones in Bad Grandpa is the one in the biker bar. Without looking to spoil it, it involves a fall out over Billy around a gang of bikers whose club aim is to help abused children. It doesn’t end up being funny, just odd. It’s kind of fascinating to watch, but it feels like the two styles are clumsily forced to together.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a frustrating film. It occasionally works where it shouldn’t and more commonly doesn’t work where it should. Unfortunately, the film thing plays like a TV special that got out of hand. There are a few laughs and the end of the film (particularly the end credits, which suggest that the on-screen chemistry from the Jackass films continues behind the scenes) is quite poignant, but it just doesn’t fit together.
Bad Grandpa is everything you’d want from a Jackass movie and more. Not only is it brimming with outrageous stunts, but it also boasts two crass, disgusting, insensitive and lovable lead characters that bring a new dimension of hilarity to the material. Hit the jump for my review.
jackass-bad-grandpa-johnny-knoxville-jackson-nicollJohnny Knoxville is Irving Zisman, an older man with a young heart, juvenile sense of humor and insatiable sex drive. When his wife passes away, Irving is eager to put his new single status to use, but his grand plan to hunt down prime poontang hits a snag when he’s put in charge of his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll). Billy’s mother is off to prison and now it’s up to Irving to road trip it across the country and deliver Billy to his father.
Bad Grandpa/Full Movie
But what does any of that matter? You’re not heading off to see Bad Grandpa to indulge in some cutesy grandfather, grandson bonding time; you want shocking Jackass-style stunts, and in that respect, Bad Grandpa delivers.
The film’s humor is twofold; you’ve got your own shock and awe that comes from watching Knoxville dressed as an elderly man launch himself through a storefront window and then you’ve also got the absolutely hilarious responses from the unsuspecting strip mall shoppers around him. It’s a highly effective one-two punch that makes even the excessively crude and less innovative gags sufficiently amusing. Had a character in a more traditional commercial comedy plucked a fish with enormous genitalia out of a golf course pond, it’d likely come across as vulgar and unfunny. However, have Knoxville pull the same stunt dressed as Irving for unknowing golfers and the joke is pure gold.
While Knoxville handles most of Bad Grandpa’s bigger set pieces, Nicoll shines as a kid with an exceptionally smart mouth. There’s a chance the filmmakers could have been feeding him lines, but whether or not that’s the case, Nicoll’s sass and vulgarity is so well delivered and well timed that there’s no denying the kid’s got some serious natural comedic abilities. Both Knoxville and Nicoll produce a slew of successful solo gags, but the standouts highlight the chemistry between their characters.
jackass-presents-bad-grandpa-johnny-knoxvilleSome jokes hit harder than others, but really, every single stunt in Bad Grandpa earns a laugh. However, when it comes to the seemingly scripted banter between Knoxville and Nicoll while the pair drives from location to location, it’s a strikingly different form of comedy and because it isn’t half as effective as the candid pranks, these moments tend to deflate the film’s momentum.
It’d be easy to say, just take out these purely narrative transitions and adopt the traditional Jackass fade in, fade out approach to move from one scenario to the next, but the format does give Bad Grandpa something the other Jackass moves lack, a connection to the characters. You’ll cringe when someone gets hit you-know-where with god-knows-what, but you don’t really care about the person. Here, however, because Knoxville and Nicoll deliver convincing performances that make you believe they’re these people, it adds another dimension to the outrageous, illegal, and/or nauseating behavior.
The concept that Irving grows to love having Billy around likely isn’t as poignant as intended, but their connection still enhances every single situation. Watching Billy walk around and tell random people that his grandfather’s crazy is hilarious because you know the guy. Odds are, watching a little boy perform in an all-girl beauty pageant would have been amusing either way, but because the stunt solidifies Irving and Billy as the ultimate tag team, it’s exponentially more satisfying than a fleeting laugh.
jackass-bad grandpa posterBad Grandpa clocks in at 92 minutes, but could have sustained more. When Irving and Billy’s story comes to a close and the credits start to roll, so does a montage of behind-the-scenes footage and you’re going to want to sit through it all. Simply put, it’s fun spending time with Billy and Irving, and Nicoll and Knoxville, too. It seems as though they genuinely enjoyed making this movie and, in turn, it’s impossible not to enjoy watching it.
The format needs some serious work, but team Jackass definitely has something here. Candid pranks have an inherent appeal and the longevity of the franchise proves it, but the addition of a narrative component gives that traditional Jackass style a fun, fresh framework. If the Jackass crew can develop more characters as amusing and likable as Irving and Billy, a steady stream of similarly structured films could and should turn into a welcomed tradition.