The problem with alternative comedy cuts is fairly self-evident: they’re made up of footage deemed less than what was actually released. Thus by their very make-up, they are less funny than whatever original preferred version preceded them. Bad Grandpa .5 makes a valiant attempt to overcome these short-comings (at least for the first half) by being less a collection of unused footage and more a behind the scenes making of. Hit the jump for my Bad Grandpa .5 Blu-ray review.
The behind-the-scenes first half tends to be the stronger section of BG .5. Here – there’s a focus on the beginning of the “sixty-day” shoot with Johnny Knoxville admittedly less-than-enthusiastic in the early going. We watch as Knoxville undergoes the torturous make-up process to become the titular “Bad Grandpa”: Irving Zisman. This is intercut with the various incarnations of Irving over the course of each Jackass film. It’s interesting to watch Tony Gardner’s make-up process develop with each subsequent film, becoming more detailed and arduous after every undertaking.
Knoxville confesses the make-up process adversely affected his mood on the Bad Grandpa shoot in turn making Irving a much more prickly character. This lends context to the unused footage interspersed throughout the behind-the-scenes sections. Bits that don’t quite work on their own – e.g. Irving as the world’s worst groundskeeper – become funnier in the context of knowing Knoxville is actually truly annoyed underneath all the make-up. These segments become a fascinating before and after for Knoxville and the character of Irving. In the earlier shot unused footage, Knoxville approaches Irving as an aggressively terrible person out to actively annoy every mark he comes into contact with. As the shoot progresses and Knoxville becomes more comfortable in the make-up, his approach to Irving changes to someone a lot warmer – a somehow sympathetic misogynistic old man who just says the ‘damndest things’.
There’s a fun unused bit a little later on where Irving asks a gentleman for a cigarette and then after receiving the cig, immediately stomps it out, chastising the man for smoking to begin with. The segment becomes funnier when the man approaches Irving again — this time with a large cigar in his mouth, blowing smoke in Irving’s face, daring the ‘old man’ to take the cigar and stomp it out again.
The scene becomes a ‘line-in-the-sand’ for just how far Knoxville is willing to go. He knows that if he takes the cigar out of the man’s mouth, he is more than likely to get beat up. Sure it may be funny to watch Knoxville dressed up as an old man get his ass kicked by a much larger guy; but does Knoxville himself want to get punched in the face? Just how far is he willing to go for a joke? Perhaps the Knoxville of old – the guy who got his start taking a bullet to the chest – would take the punch; but the older Knoxville of the present is understandably less-than-okay with such an outcome. It forces the actor, if not to dig deeper, then to change his approach to characters in general. There’s a softer edge to Bad Grandpa than all the previous Jackass films. Much of the comedy stems from people’s surprised/shocked/disgusted reactions to Irving ‘s antics, not from actually dangerous Jackass-like stunts. This simple cut scene of Knoxville deciding not to take the cigar, not to stomp it out, not to take the punch – is perhaps emblematic in and of itself of the actor and the film’s growth from all the Jackasses that preceded it.
Much of the best stuff in BG .5 actually doesn’t even involve Irving or Knoxville. There’s an extended segment on the cameramen & women, detailing the process on how they shoot a hidden-camera scene that is far more interesting than any cut footage. The ingenuity shown in where the cameramen hide their apparatuses (in baby carriages, in clocks, in vending machines, in garbage cans…) often times outweigh the actual stunts being performed. Additionally it’s fascinating to watch the process of how the crew – in particular the film’s 1st AD – get civilians to sign wavers after the joke has been revealed. There are a number of times where BG .5 goes past the end of a sketch to show the immediate aftermath of the joke and the reactions of the poor duped marks. There’s no telling how someone will react when they discover that they’ve been made a fool of – and the various reactions of these unwitting stars fluctuates from good humored to downright hostile.
Of course, the main attraction of BG.5 is the cut footage of the two other most recognizable ‘stars’ (Catherine Keener & filmmaker Spike Jonze) and it’s here that the film mostly disappoints. The last forty or so minutes of BG.5 is pretty much just the deleted scenes featuring these two characters – Catherine Keener as Irving’s soon-to-be-deceased wife and Jonze as his recurring ‘Gloria’ character from Jackass. The problem with all these scenes is that there’s a reason they were cut from the original film to begin with: they’re just not that funny. There’s a bit where BG .5 repeats the same sketch involving Keener and different marks as she and Irving plan her soon-to-be funeral. The sketch doesn’t quite work the first time – so repeating it two more times with different marks just feels downright repetitive and tiring. Sure – it would make for an interesting special feature on a Bad Grandpa Blu-ray; but as a significant segment of its own film, it just isn’t able to hold interest.
There’s a strange ‘Catch 22’ here where the reason most people will rent or buy BG .5 will be to see the Keener/Jonze deleted footage – but it’s these segments that ultimately hinder the actual quality of the picture. If Bad Grandpa .5 was released in conjunction with the actual film, it would be a lot easier to recommend. On its own, it’s ultimately just a curiosity – something really only for completists and the most hard-core of fans.
Bad Grandpa .5 hits Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday.