If you liked the Jackass television series and its movie spinoffs, you’ll probably love Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. Starring Johnny Knoxville, the chief perpetrator of many of the disgusting and/or painful-looking stunts featured in those reality shows and films, Bad Grandpa is a loose sequence of hidden-camera pranks centered on the outrageous antics of a fictional octogenarian. Some of them are quite funny, but only to the degree that you are able be amused by explosive diarrhea and the effects of age and gravity on certain parts of the male anatomy.
Yes, I laughed.
That is to say, the 13-year-old-boy who lives inside me – and who sometimes comes out, despite my best efforts to shackle him in the attic of my psyche, where he is denied food and water – laughed. Consider this: I also gave Movie 43 3 1/2 stars.
Bad Grandpa has only the most superficial of plots. Irving, a lecherous, foul-mouthed and wildly irresponsible old coot created by Knoxville during the last season of his television show, is driving his 8-year-old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), across the country. Knoxville’s old-age makeup looks strikingly real, and most of the people he encounters take him for exactly what he appears to be: an elderly idiot who has no business taking care of himself, let alone a minor. In structure and concept, the film resembles the faux-documentary Borat, with the distinction that the cameras here are all hidden.
And that is where the film falls down and can’t get up. Unlike in Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 punking of middle America, the reactions of the people who are fooled by Knoxville’s Candid Camera-style stunts just aren’t all that funny.
Yes, there are some hilarious setups. Irving hires unsuspecting movers to help him load his late wife’s corpse (played by co-producer Spike Jonze in drag) into the trunk of his car; Billy, also in drag, enters a child beauty pageant, performing a raunchy striptease to Warrant’s Cherry Pie before an audience of shocked parents; Irving soils himself flamboyantly in a diner. But most of the folks caught on camera seem stuck somewhere between bemusement and mild alarm. Only a grocery store owner who catches Irving and Billy shoplifting musters anything close to real outrage.
Part of the subversive thrill of Jackass always lay in the fact that there was real danger, whether Knoxville was tumbling around inside a filthy porta-potty or one of his cohorts was stapling his privates to his thigh. In Bad Grandpa, on the other hand, the stakes seem weirdly low. Even the moving men who help Irving with the disposal of his wife’s “corpse” seem strangely unconcerned by the act’s illegality, despite their client’s repeated (and vocal) reminders. When Irving sprays feces on the wall of a restaurant, the expressions on the onlookers’ faces suggest that they’ve just witnessed someone sneaking an unauthorized soda refill.
Another problem with the film is its episodic structure. Although we’re allowed the perverse pleasure of watching Irving commit one inappropriate act after another, our sense of horror/delight dissipates after each one. That is largely the result of interstitial scenes that, while scripted, feel like filler.
On a side note, Billy’s fake beauty pageant performance, while naughty, pales in comparison with the gyrations of one of his competitors, who grinds like a prepubescent Miley Cyrus. That just goes to show that, despite Grandpa’s best efforts to shock us, truth really is stranger than fiction.
With: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll.
Director: Jeff Tremaine.
Screenwriters: Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, Jeff Tremaine.
Producers: Derek Freda, Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine.
A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 92 minutes. Vulgar language, crude sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, adult themes. Opens Friday Oct. 25 at area theaters.