Bad Grandpa’s first joke is a dick joke, of course. You know what you’re going to get with the Jackass crew and I went in with fairly low expectations. What else can they come up with? But I was surprised by just how much I laughed throughout.
Moving away from the format of the first three Jackass movies, the team behind Bad Grandpa (including Jeff Tremaine and Spike Jonze) have structured the series of pranks around a basic story framework. It’s a method that worked perfectly for the movie that this one clearly aspires to, Borat, and here works to give the film focus. But it’s really just all about the laughs, which are some of the best in the series.
Johnny Knoxville undergoes hours of makeup to transform into his old man character of Irving Zisman. Irving’s freedom when he finds out his wife has died is interrupted when his daughter leaves her 8 year old son Billy (Jackson Nicholl) with him when she has to go to jail. Irving and Billy then take a cross country trip see Billy’s father, forming an unusual but strong relationship along the way.
But naturally this is all just an excuse for set pieces involving scrotums, shit, strip joints and dead bodies to be unleashed on the unsuspecting public. Seeing an old man and a kid doing numerous inappropriate things is undeniably funny, and it helps that the people of the American south are dumb, or too afraid to offend when put in really uncomfortable situations.
The pranks are varied enough to not be repetitive, but the laughs drop a bit as the plot gets in the way in the final third, and the only truly unforgettable part is an absolutely inspired kids beauty pageant bit. It’s so inappropriate and masterfully executed, leaving the audience clapping by its end. Knoxville is great at improvising during the scenes, but the unquestionable star of the show is Nicholl. This kid is something else – great timing, great line delivery, up for anything, and expert at acting cute enough to be able to say or do anything to adults.
Bad Grandpa isn’t an incredible piece of cinema for the ages, but it doesn’t pretend or want to be. It knows what it is and does the job very well, being entertaining pretty much throughout. It’s the closest we’ve come to another Borat (but without the genius level jokes and political and social commentary). It’s completely stupid and infantile, but that’s the point, and it’s a point that Bad Grandpa revels in.
Bad Grandpa is out in cinemas now.
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicholl
Written by: Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine
Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures