"I might be too old to stir the gravy but I can still lick the spoon."
I am an unabashed admirer of the Jackass television series and the three unbelievably funny feature films that the crew has produced. The true genius of Jackass, for me anyway, was that everything was always done at their own expense; They always ended up being the butt of their own jokes. Therefore, it was with extreme apprehension that I approached the latest film from Jackass star Johnny Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine, Bad Grandpa, as it seemed that this was going to be a deviation from that successful formula. This time there's a plot involved, but more troubling than that, it seemed that the jokes were going to be at the expense of innocent bystanders, and that had me worried. Was I worried for no reason? Read on to find out...
Irving Zisman (Knoxville) is an 80-year old man whose wife has just died. At her funeral, his deadbeat daughter shows up with his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll), and informs Irving that she's being sent to prison. Irving must either take care of Billy himself or make the trip from Nebraska to Raleigh, NC where Billy's dad Chuck (Greg Harris) lives. Irving wants a taste of his newly single freedom, so he decides to bring Billy across country to his father.
Along the way, the two get into all manner of shenanigans, many of them rehashes of things Knoxville has gotten into before on the show and in the other films. Over the course of the trip, Irivng & Billy very predictably begin to bond, and Irving has second thoughts about dropping him off with his father, who only wants Billy for the promise of the $600 a month the government will give him to care for Billy.
As I stated a moment ago, my biggest issue with the film is that many of the gags in the film are just repurposed gags from the various other Jackass ephemera. He gets his manhood stuck in a vending machine and relies on passersby to help him get unstuck. His testicles dangle out of his shorts and touch people. He shoplifts and plays the senility card to get out of it. They may as well have called the film Jackass' Greatest Hits, as there's very little inspiration to be found in the film.
Most of the inspiration comes from the baffling looks given him and the child by the unsuspecting bystanders, and while it works for a bit, it gets old fast. Take for example the scene in the bingo hall where Irving is going to meet some women. He drinks his bingo marker, and that gets reactions. Then he whips out a blender and makes margaritas. More reactions follow. He squeezes lime juice on his crotch to check for venereal disease. Even more reactions. Then, after he's sauced, he seat hops and hits on any woman that will make eye contact with him. It goes on for the length of a bible, and just ceases to be funny anymore.
There are a handful of inspired bits, many of which likewise get beaten into the ground, such as his trip to a St. Louis strip joint on Ladies' Night, where it's funny for a bit, but it then devolves into him stripping himself, and the inspiration flies right out the window. It feels as if they had funny setups, and just relied on the reactions to carry the day. It just gets old fast. Ditto Irving's obsession with bedding a black woman, which is funny the first five or six times he injects casual racism into a conversation with a lady, but then gets to be interminable.
This may lose me some credibility, but I think that Knoxville & Tremaine are comedic geniuses. They had their finger on the pulse of a truly unique and original brand of comedy, and milked it for just about all it was worth. Here, they're coasting on fumes, hoping that the people they run into will give them enough comedy in their reactions to an old man and a kid doing inappropriate things to last 92 minutes. It just doesn't. The formula that they're borrowing from Sacha Baron Cohen's Da Ali G Show, as well as Borat & Bruno was calculated to catch average everyday people doing and saying terrible things. This takes all the piss out of that idea and relies on them to either be shocked spectators or angry participants, and it certainly doesn't play well over an entire feature film.
Knoxville is fine in the film, some of his Zisman bits, such as the trip to the motorcycle store in Jackass 3D, are among my favorite of the series, but he's not enough to sustain an entire feature alone. Nicoll is fine as well, he's game for pretty much anything, but has a lot of painful moments when you can tell he's being fed lines, likely through an earpiece. His big finale at the beauty pageant (which has been used in pretty much every advertisement and is therefore nowhere near as funny in the film as it should be) is by far the highlight of his work in the film.
It's hard for me to know exactly who Bad Grandpa is for. Fans of the Jackass series will likely be disappointed in all the rehashing and repurposing of bits. It's more than likely aimed at the general movie going audience who is not familiar with their brand of humor, and will likely play better to them than it does to a true fan. I would recommend this as a good entry point into their style of humor, if the Jackass series is too much for you to handle, but please know that if you enjoy this, there are much better uses of these kinds of jokes, and unfortunately, it looks like they've all been used up.
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]