2013’s Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is very much a Jackass movie, but it’s not the type of film that long-time fans might be anticipating. It’s a fresh direction for the ageing brand name, replacing the haphazard structure of the previous movies with a scripted story, though there are still plenty of mischievous shenanigans and pranks involving (supposedly) unsuspecting members of the general public. It takes its structural cues from Borat in this sense, though Bad Grandpa plays as an actual movie rather than a mockumentary. Opinions will no doubt be divided on the film; some will be outright repulsed, while other folks might be let down by the lack of genuine Jackass-style stunts. But it’s difficult to imagine a better movie being carved out of this premise – for what it is, Bad Grandpa is a home run, representing one of 2013’s comedic high points. It’s silly and rude, yet also hilarious, maintaining an agreeable pace as it goes about its goofy business.
When 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) loses his wife after decades of marriage, he’s overjoyed, looking forward to the prospect of hitting on as many women as possible. However, the funeral attracts Irving’s drug-addicted daughter (Georgina Cates), who informs the old man that she’s going to prison and he must take care of his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll). Afraid that the kid might ruin his newfound sexual liberation, Irving desperately searches for somewhere to offload Billy, asking the boy’s estranged deadbeat father Chuck (Greg Harris) to accept parental responsibilities. Chuck agrees, but only because it will mean he’ll receive a $600 government payment per month, and Irving must travel across the country to deliver the boy. Hitting the road with Billy in the passenger seat and his dead wife in the trunk, Irving gets himself mixed up in all sorts of shenanigans, all the while developing somewhat of an unexpected bond with his grandson.
Suffice it to say, the story is completely flimsy and has been done to death, but the movie doesn’t require an intricate narrative. People watch Bad Grandpa for the jokes and the mischief, and the thin set-up thankfully succeeds well enough to give the skits some purpose (as opposed to the completely plotless disposition of the other Jackass flicks). With that said, however, veteran director Jeff Tremaine and his crew do deserve credit for actually paying attention to the plot, threading together an intelligible narrative and never breaking the illusion that this is a movie. Indeed, the movie never “winks” at us, and nobody ever acknowledges the cameras.
Naturally, Bad Grandpa can be hit-and-miss, but misses are rare, and when the flick hits…it really hits. Tremaine is careful to include the types of moments that the Jackass fanbase demand, leading to a few disgusting scenes and a handful of dangerous stunts. But many of the laughs are generated by seeing the candid reactions of the victims, who seem to be oblivious to the fact that Knoxville is actually fucking with them beneath a heavy layer of make-up (the make-up artists deserves a lot of credit for their convincing efforts). Since the candid camera antics rely on hidden lenses, there is a noticeable difference in image quality at times, with many shots looking grainy and unfocused, while others look positively immaculate. Miraculously, a lot of the funnier moments were kept out of the promotional materials, even though the trailer does unfortunately spoil the movie’s climactic set-piece. This can’t be held against the picture, of course, as the studio handled all the marketing, but it is disappointing that the experience might not be as satisfying to those who know what to expect when Irving and Billy crash a beauty pageant.
The heart of Bad Grandpa is the relationship between Irving and Billy, with Knoxville and Nicoll sharing great chemistry and playing off each other beautifully. Nicoll is game for anything, saying and doing the most inappropriate things while relishing the chance to be so mischievous. They’re a really fun pair to watch, and there are scenes between the shenanigans that are somewhat heartfelt. None of the dramatic stuff is overly profound, but it’s convincing enough in the context of this movie, with Knoxville delivering his most credible acting performance to date (though that’s not saying much).
To be sure, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a kinder, gentler Jackass, but it remains crude and R-rated nevertheless, and it’s just as fun as the Jackass creations which came before it. It’s often extremely funny, delivering a number of belly-laughs and maintaining a playful spirit, making it a solid movie to watch with friends and pizza on a lazy evening. Whether or not any of the candid camera moments are staged remain up to the viewer, but it doesn’t diminish the experience. Capping the movie off is an extended end credits montage containing the usual outtakes and behind-the-scenes craziness, while also showing how pranks were pulled off and revealing reactions of the victims after being informed that they’re in a movie. Bad Grandpa is dedicated to Ryan Dunn, one of the Jackass performers who died in 2011.