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.
Johnny 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.
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.
Some 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.
Bad 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.