CAST: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Spike Jonze, Georgina Cates, the American public
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins
BASICALLY…: 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Knoxville) travels across America and gets into some messed up situations with his grandson Billy (Nicoll)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Who doesn’t love the Jackass boys? Even if you don’t, there’s certainly a tiny part inside of you that giggles at their stupidity whenever they commit serious bodily harm or perform some wild, gut-twisting stunts. The MTV television series, and their trilogy of movie spin-offs, remain everyone’s guilty pleasures: they’re gross, they’re hilarious, they’re completely immature, and by God we love them for it.
But then, a change in direction. In 2011, cast member Ryan Dunn sadly lost his life in a car accident. As you can tell by watching any of the skits they produced together, Dunn was a valued teammate and friend to everyone who worked on the franchise, and even receives a “In Memory Of…” quote at the end of this movie’s credits. However, this moment of mortality seems to have had an effect on everyone involved, probably resulting in a completely different style of movie for their fourth outing, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.
The first of their films to have some sort of loose narrative, Bad Grandpa may disappoint some fans expecting to see the usual hardcore disgust and stunts. Everything seems tamer than before, even – gasp! – mature. We still get the odd gross-out gag, usually involving certain body parts, but they’re downplayed up to a point. Instead, making up most of the movie is the two characters of Irving Zisman and Billy (played by Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll, respectively) pranking members of the public whilst at all times staying in character, not unlike Borat. The humour is still there, and when it’s funny it’s flat-out hilarious, but it all doesn’t seem as grand as before. The storyline that the film loosely follows is a fairly simple road trip movie that does play out some of the usual beats, even to a point where everything becomes predictable. In short, Bad Grandpa does not feel like the Jackass that we used to know.
And, honestly, that’s what makes this movie really stand out.
Okay, it’s not as funny as some of the other films, but in the end it really doesn’t matter. Bad Grandpa represents something of a maturing phase for the people at Jackass. The passing of Ryan Dunn clearly affected everybody on board. There was a death in the family, a teammate that would never be physically part of the old gang again. They couldn’t just make another Jackass film like the ones they had done in the past, it just wouldn’t have felt the same. By making a film that runs on a narrative as opposed to an anthology of sketches and stunts – though to be fair, Bad Grandpa feels like this at times too – it shows their ability to move on and try something new for a change. Every single stunt in any Jackass production is different, rarely ever the same and always doing fresh stuff, so why should it raise concern when they decide to do a film that doesn’t entirely resemble what came before? After all, going into uncharted territory with their next trick is what Dunn probably would have wanted them to do anyway.
As stated, the storyline is pretty thin but it is held together by the unlikely duo of Knoxville and Nicoll. They have a remarkable and inspired chemistry, working off each other nicely to sometimes hilarious and even moving effect. This especially comes in handy when pranking the unsuspecting public. A farting contest in a restaurant ends in the worst possible way to the horror of the unaware extras and the hilarity of the audience watching (it really is one of the funniest parts of the movie that wasn’t in the trailers). But what makes it work to an emotional level – or at least as emotional as a farting contest can be – is the sheer joy that Knoxville and Nicoll are having in that moment of tranquillity. In the most twisted way possible, you actually buy these two as grandpa and grandson respectively. Nicoll is a gifted young comedian whose raw talent for improvisation and finding the right facial expressions will surely see him go far in the future, while Knoxville uses his heavy make-up to his advantage by playing a character who by all accounts we should probably hate but yet still comes across as both entertaining and likable. They’re both excellent in these comic roles, and we can only hope that we see these two again on-screen together in the future.
Not everything in the film works, unfortunately. A good portion of the jokes are sadly heavily featured in the promotional material, including the famed beauty pageant skit which serves as the film’s climax. There are also times when some of the pranks done in public come off as rather awkward and uncomfortable to watch. There is a scene when Zisman enters a strip club only to find male strippers dancing for the excited women. It eventually ends up with the old man quite literally rocking out with his… well, you know the saying. But the sight of women rushing away from the exposed senior citizen says it all: it’s all a bit too much to take in despite the admittedly hilarious shock value of the oversized appendage.
In the end, however, it makes little difference in what works and what doesn’t. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa might not be the funniest comedy of the year, although it certainly has its moments, but it represents something we never thought possible from the boys at Jackass: they’re growing up.
SO, TO SUM UP…
While its humour can be hit and miss, and its storyline being as thin as the paper it was written on, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa represents a sentimental and bittersweet turning point in the maturity of the Jackass boys, propelled by a winning chemistry between Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll, and an eternal passion for what Jackass loves to do.