When Ryan Dunn passed away, it meant there was a hole in the heart of the Jackass crew, and likely spelled the end of the group’s feature film work. To sidestep that tragedy, Johnny Knoxville took a character from those shows and movies and spun it off into a feature film: Irving Zisman, the dirty old man who once bellowed he was Lon Chaney’s lover. Zisman is the focus of the move Bad Grandpa, and here the Jackass group are working within the confines of a narrative feature (which makes it feel similar to the Sacha Baron Cohen films), but get great results. My review of Bad Grandpa on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The film starts as Knoxville’s Zisman is told that his wife has passed away. He’s overjoyed as he can’t wait to have sex with anything that moves (or doesn’t in the case of a soda machine). But he’s quickly saddled with his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) because Billy’s mother is going back to prison. Irving talks to the boy’s father Chuck (Greg Harris), who agrees to take the child in simply because of the money the state will provide for Billy’s welfare. This leads Irving and Billy on to a road trip, in which they travel with Irving’s dead wife (Catherine Keener) in their trunk.
In terms of narrative, the film follows the beats you would expect from an odd couple pairing. Irving wants nothing to do with Billy, but then grows to love and care about him, and regrets his decision of pawning him off on Chuck. But though the elements of the plot are familiar, the route in getting there is not, as Knoxville and company set up a number of real life pranks for the duo to encounter along the way.
And that’s the genius of the movie. The first time I watched the film, you could feel the dead air of plot scenes, something previous Jackass movies didn’t have, because they were a collection of sequences built on set up and pay off, while on first pass the similarities to both Borat and Bruno weighed heavily on the film. But with films like this, it’s all about the gags, and there are so many winners here. From Billy looking for his grandfather at adult book shops and gentleman’s clubs, to Irving’s time at a strip club, to a restaurant gross out, there are so many high points of laugh out loud comedy.
But also, what makes the film work so well is how far they push the sequences that do play into the plot. The film is made up of a number of scenes that feel like digressions to have outrageous pranks, but on second pass it’s fascinating how many actually do advance the narrative and the characters, while sequences that lay out the plot are often insane and dangerous. The sequence where Irving drops off Billy with his father is an all-timer in terms of “someone could die from this, seriously” comedy.
And though it got some snarky comments, there’s no question that the make-up work in the film deserved to be Oscar nominated. For Knoxville to appear in public and not have the people he interacted with suspect that it was a prank is the definition of awards worthy.
As for the differences between the unrated cut and the theatrical version, none of the additions felt all that memorable (or terrible for that matter), it just offers a couple more jokes. The difference in run time is ten minutes (92 vs. 102), and the additions seem like additional jokes versus extra sequences. As Knoxville has suggested there will be a Bad Grandpa 1.5, it’s likely any longer sequences will be included in that.
As for the Blu-ray it comes with both cuts of the film a DVD and Digital copy. The film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. There’s eight behind the scenes featurettes (35 min.) that walk through the film’s bigger set pieces, and how the group went about putting the stunts together, with comments by Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine (among others). There’s also an Easter egg hiding in this section (1 min.). There are six “Alternative Marks” (20 min.) that features different random people in situations that appear in the film, and three deleted scenes (6 min.). Nothing revelatory, but the behind the sense stuff is fascinating enough to make the extras worth watching.