It’s no secret that Jackass isn’t exactly the spry fountain of reckless, ball-busting youth that it used to be, and I’m not sure if that’s anybody’s fault. With three mainline films now under its belt, cast members all in their late thirties and early forties, and both a recovered addict and a tragically deceased comrade among their ranks, the Jackass crew has been through a lot, and personally I just don’t know if they have another traditional Jackass-style movie in them. Of course, I’d love to be proven wrong down the road, but until then, at least we have Jackass ringleader (and arguably most fearless stuntman) Johnny Knoxville to dress up as a dirty geezer and stick his junk in a vending machine.
Assuming that Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is just a compilation of new skits from Knoxville’s “old man” character would be a slight oversimplification of what this film is, but if you’re coming into it for that and that alone, you certainly won’t be disappointed. I won’t spoil the jokes here because the trailers have already done that enough (and these gags are of the sort that are hilarious once and decay rapidly from there), but if you got a kick out of Irving Zisman hurtling through the glass wall of a car dealership or attempting to make out with with an underage girl on the street in past Jackass incarnations, the raunchy drollery happening throughout Bad Grandpa will please you immensely. Jackass fans, you can’t really go wrong.
Of course, there may be more folks than the standard Jackass faithful seeing this film, and to general comedy filmgoers Bad Grandpa offers a surprisingly worthwhile 92 minutes of shenanigans. Though Jackass certainly hasn’t gone soft or hastily become a second-rate Nicholas Stoller film, Bad Grandpa does contain a narrative, and despite what you might expect it does manage to strike an emotional chord or two. The plot essentially centers around old guy Irving Zisman, whose grandson Billy has been dumped off on him when his mother is sent to prison. Given that Billy’s father lives halfway across the country, it’s up to Irving to road-trip Billy to his burnout dad for a forced and unfortunate custody transfer.
Despite the hidden camera nature of the film, Knoxville’s acting here extends beyond what you remember from the old man skits of yore. Though the pranks themselves are hilarious and still embody the character’s “dirty old perv” depiction, there are borderline-touching moments where we actually get to experience Zisman the man as well. Clearly Bad Grandpa takes at least some cues from the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G trio of films, and though its more affecting moments are about as touching as Borat at a Jesus convention (so basically, very much so or not at all depending who you are), they’re much appreciated all the same.
Kudos to Bad Grandpa‘s youngest star though, because Knoxville’s performance would not be what it is without the amusing and surprisingly convincing presence of Jackson Nicoll as Zisman’s grandson Billy. In a lot of ways he’s a hilarious foil to Zisman, responsible where the old man is childish, and generally recognizing when he’s crossed the dirty line he constantly walks. On the other hand, Zisman is clearly the caretaker, and the only thing preventing you from cringing at what Billy ends up being exposed to is the fact that you’re told he has terrible parents and an already-messed up upbringing to begin with.
Even with performances exceeding my personal expectations (which were rather low in that department), if you don’t know Jackass, then you’ll likely find a lot of the acting awkward or just downright silly. What you will stay for, though, is the pranks. When it comes down to it, Bad Grandpa is funny because of the complete and utter consternation, confusion, rage, and countless other emotions that Knoxville instills in unsuspecting street civilians. You’ll see him endure multiple crashes, engage in endless potty humor, slam into giant penguins, attempt to send his grandson through the mail – it’s all thoroughly amusing, and made all the more so by the fact that the folks involved think it’s real.
It’s nothing entirely new for Jackass, but a spin-off film that takes this sort of Borat-inspired direction feels like a nice refresher from the usual antics of the notorious stunt-at-home crew. Despite highlights from Steve-O and Knoxville in the previous film, it ultimately felt tame and yellow compared to the stellar and arguably unbeatable Jackass: Number Two. Though I hope the gang all reunite for one final outrageous and wildly irresponsible sendoff before the series closes its door for good, Bad Grandpa is the film Jackass needs right now, and at its worst you’ll still chuckle and nod your head.
Jackass fans should obviously see this, but if you like Baron Cohen’s brand of hidden camera comedy or just generally approve of ridiculousness and shenanigans, you’ll likely have a good time with Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. Just don’t set your expectations too high.
If your expectations are in the right place, then this is a film that is endlessly amusing and often hilarious, but if you have a firm distaste for the raunchy or ridiculous, you may want to steer clear.