With Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Georgina Cates. Written by Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine. Directed by Jeff Tremaine. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use. 92 minutes.
Johnny Knoxville and his “Jackass” gang move in on “Borat” territory in JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA. There’s Knoxville’s usual mix of outrageous and tasteless stunts, but now there’s a story tying it all together. There are scenes here that serve simply to propel the story along.
The story is that on the day 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) is burying his wife, his daughter Kimmy (Georgina Cates) shows up with her 8-year-old son Billy (Jackson Nicoll). Kimmy is going to jail and needs Irving to look after Billy. As we overhear at the funeral scene (along with the choir and caterer), Irving barely knows the boy and doesn’t want to do it. When Kimmy takes off, Irving arranges to take Billy from Nebraska to the boy’s lowlife father in North Carolina. The ensuing plotline is simply following Irving and Billy on their road trip.
It’s really all a variation on what Allen Funt was doing on “Candid Camera” fifty years ago, only with a lot more vulgarity. When Irving bumps into the open coffin and it falls, with his wife’s body tumbling out (really co-writer Spike Jonze), we cut to the shocked expressions of the “mourners.” When Irving gets his penis stuck in a soda machine, it generates not only shocked looks but one guy pulling out his cellphone to take a picture.
If you find this sort of thing funny––and the “Jackass” TV shows and movies have been very popular––then you may enjoy these sorts of antics. Apparently there’s always an audience for a joke involving explosive flatulence. Also at this level is 8-year-old Billy vomiting after Irving gives him some beer or going up to a woman at an adult bookstore and asking her what her “stripper name” is.
These are gags that may or may not work, but would probably work a lot better in small doses. Occasionally the film rises above that. A scene where Irving is attempting to ship Billy as an express package is clever, while their assault on a children’s beauty pageant is truly inspired. Too often, though, the gags involve either embarrassing people, or doing things that cause them to look away in disgust. In outtakes we see people laughing and being good sports when it’s revealed it was all for a movie, but one also can’t help notice the number of faces that are blurred. Presumably those people refused to sign the release to appear in the film.
Perhaps the best thing about the movie is that Knoxville has created a character who’s more than just a dirty old man, and his growing affection for his grandson is palpable. In one of the most interesting sequences of the movie, Irving turns Billy over to his father in a bar being visiting by a real life motorcycle gang who are known as the “Guardians of Children,” having made care for abused children their cause. Their reactions are genuine and a moment when the film rises above the slapstick.
“Bad Grandpa” is a novelty film that will appeal to its audience and probably not much more. If Knoxville had tried to widen his appeal by softening the material, his fan base would no doubt have been disappointed.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.