Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, and some graphic nudity and brief drug use
Running Time: 92 min.

Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll
Small role: Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine

Review published October 31, 2013

Johnny Knoxville (The Last Stand, The Ringer) piles on the prosthetic make-up to star as 86-year-old Irving Zisman in this spin-off movie featuring the character who originally appeared in the final season of MTV's "Jackass" in 2001 (though the character looks younger in this film). As with Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, the film is a mix of fictional narrative backbone interspersed with scenes in which the actors go out and act among real-life people in order to elicit shocked reactions to their outrageous antics, a la "Candid Camera".

The plot involves newly widowed Zisman going on a cross-country road trip with his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Nicoll, The Fighter) after his mother is about to be sent away to prison on a drug charge. Not wanting to take care of the kid because the ball and chain might ruin his newfound sexual liberation, Irving is going to drop Billy off with his deadbeat father, who is gladly going to take the tyke on the hope he'll earn $600 a month in child support until the mother is released. With wife's body in the trunk, the old man and impressionable young boy set out to their final destination, as grandpa imparts a few nuggets on how to meet women and have fun.

Opinions will likely run the full gamut for Bad Grandpa, as your reaction to crass, tasteless humor will be fully put to the test throughout. Will you laugh as Irving gets his genitalia stuck in a soda machine while trying to have sex with it, asking for the help of pedestrians nearby? Will the sight of a 'shart spray' during a flatulence contest between an old man and young boy in a restaurant give you a fit of giggles? How about grandpa baring nearly all in a male stripper revue, including some very low-hanging, prosthetic testicles? Or a Little Miss Sunshine-biting scene involving a striptease done at a child beauty pageant? If all of this fires you up, this is the comedy you've been waiting for. If not, consider this a fair warning to stay far, far away.

The tone is a mixed bag, as the gags are actually fairly raunchy and Knoxville does seem to target certain types of people more than others, usually the ones he thinks will be the most emotive to his shenanigans. In between the crassness, there are moments of faux sweetness, especially in the relationship between Knoxville and the young actor playing Billy, Jackson Nicoll, who is quite the game young lad in confronting strangers in the street, and doing so with a completely straight, cherubic face -- he's a real scene stealer.

To his credit, Knoxville does seem to know how far he can go with each particular 'civilian' so as to push them into reactions without crossing the line to absolute insult -- either this, or the people who become really livid are never shown to us, probably because they would refuse to sign the release form to allow it. Nevertheless, there are far too many scenes of grandpa hitting on ladies in the street that evoke few laughs, as if just making a woman uncomfortable and awkward is enough to inspire laughs from mostly male viewers, many of whom are too awkward themselves have yet to ask any girl out.

The hit-to-miss ratio is a bit on the low end, but when it does hit, it hits pretty big. The biggest laugh for me wasn't even raunchy at all, involving grandpa demonstrating an adjustable bed gone amok to a would-be purchaser at a tag sale. It's an old joke, like most of the rest in the film, but the reactions shots are what sells the gag.

Then there are some scenes that aren't very funny and run on too long; a scene involving gramps knocking his car into a giant penguin statue, provoking a wannabe tough guy to come make some idle threats if he doesn't put it back, is pretty tedious.  Another scene in which the octogenarian smuggles food in plain sight out of a grocery store, inciting the ire of the employees and owner, is without any sort of redeeming humor value unless you just like seeing people get pissed off.  A scene involving Irving being pushed into a drive-thru in a shopping cart trying to get chicken and 'poontang' from one of the employees is about as terrible as you might imagine.  A lengthy one in which Knoxville and co. try to incite mostly kind and considerate bikers at a bar into angry fisticuffs is perhaps the worst of them all.  Yet, as tacky and crass as the situations can sometimes be, at least we know that for every bad one, there will likely be a better one to follow within a minute or two.

As with the rest of the "Jackass" series of films, Bad Grandpa is pretty much critic-proof, as what might make me laugh, or fold my arms in disdain, may not be what will make you do the same.  But, you're here for my opinion, so I'm obligated to leave you with something, right?  Given that I'm neither a Jackass fan, nor a Johnny Knoxville believer, and I managed to be entertained at enough regular intervals that I wasn't looking for the exit, or my watch, I'm going to give the wildly uneven Bad Grandpa a marginal pass for delivering on its promise of a handful of lowbrow laughs (and I'm a tough sell in the gross-out humor department), some silly hijinks, and for not going all out in trying to be repugnant or offensive beyond what you'd expect from a mostly scatological endeavor.  That the end credits show that most of the 'victims' of the ruses were good sports about it makes it all seem like innocuous funning in the end.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo