Published October 25, 2013
By R. David
“Bad Grandpa” is a curiously flat and lifeless comedy that seems to fancy itself funnier and more edgy than it actually is.
Starring an unrecognizably made-up Johnny Knoxville as the 86-year-old titular troublemaker, and coming to us under the “Jackass presents” banner, “Bad Grandpa” retains much of the same improvisational zaniness of Knoxville and Co.’s “Jackass” exploits, but the film is hamstrung by the traditional narrative structure it traffics in in an attempt to frame its skit-worthy shenanigans as something resembling an actual plot. It doesn’t work; mainly because the story that writers Preston Lacy and Jeff Tremaine (who also directs) have come up with is so slight and ridiculous – crotchety, drunk and sex-obsessed Irvin Zisman embarks on a cross-country roadtrip with his eight-year-old grandson Billy (a pitch-perfect Jackson Nicoll); inappropriate mischief ensues – one wonders why they bothered with it at all.
But the larger issue is that in attempting to tell a story, the film has to constantly pull back to service a non-existent plot that no one in the audience is likely to care anything about. Billy’s mother is an incarcerated crack-whore, so Irvin is tasked with transporting the kid to his lay-about father who only wants the kid because it means an extra $600 a month in government support. Despite Irvin’s brash inappropriateness, he’s a good guy at heart, so witnessing the plight of his grandson gives the film all kinds of false sentimentality to retreat to in between scenes of the pair desecrating funerals and weddings, Irvin pulling out his ballsack at strip clubs and in other public places, and convincing Billy to dress up as a stripper to crash a little girls’ beauty pageant.
Much like the exploits of the “Jackass” crew, some of this is admittedly quite funny in spite of its obvious and lazy juvenility (a scene in which the two pass gas in a restaurant ends in a bit of inspired hilarity), the leads are largely game for anything and give solid performances (though again, as characters in an actual story, they aren’t the least bit convincing as grandfather and grandson), and – like the “Jackass” films – “Bad Grandpa’s” largest comedy asset (besides the fearless performers) are the reactions of real people caught up in the chaos Knoxville and his cronies create.
But the “Jackass” films (and show) were always a mixed comedy bag, and the gags here are even more hit or miss. No doubt, comedy is supremely subjective, so one person’s tolerance for the “Jackass” model of humor is likely to vary largely from another’s. But hardcore “Jackass” fans will likely find “Bad Grandpa” tame by comparison. The intrusive story structure is one issue, but the gags here largely feel tired, shopworn and predictable. It’s hard not to be amused by much of this, but I smiled a lot more than I actually laughed; and I’d be hard-pressed to name more than one or two truly memorable scenes.
“Bad Grandpa” also seems to be going for a “Borat”-style of gorilla comedy filmmaking with a dash of social commentary. In a handful of scenes it would appear Knoxville wants us to take note of how people treat – or, in many cases, outright ignore – the elderly and confused, and lost or needy children. While there’s a seed of topicality to these moments, Knoxville is careful to make sure to punctuate them all with a sex or fart joke, lest the film stray too far from juvenile core.
As a “Jackass” successor, “Bad Grandpa’s” shock and awe humor is merely “Jackass”-lite. As a comedy in its own right, “Bad Grandpa” barely registers.
2 Stars out of 4.
(Image Credit: Paramount Pictures)