In the past, I have split my sides with laughter at the antics of the Jackass boys. I am not ashamed to admit it. I have gone so far as to recommend all three Jackass movies with great enthusiasm. Sure, its lowest common denominator but what can I say? Their irreverent brand of grotesque slapstick has always tickled my funny bone. With that said, I went into Bad Grandpa with optimism. I was hoping to receive another ninety minutes of solid wall-to-wall laughter. That, however, was not the case as this Grandpa should have considered staying in retirement.
Bad Grandpa is a spin off focusing on the Elderly Man sketch as seen in previous films. Johnny Knoxville returns solo as Irvin Zisman, an 83-year-old recently widowed man who has a penchant for causing mischief. While attending the wake of his deceased wife, Irvin’s rebellious daughter shows up with her 11-year-old son Billy. Prosecuted for shoplifting and headed to prison for an extended stay, she requests that her dad take Billy cross-country so he can stay with his trailer trash father. Irvin begrudgingly agrees. Out on the road the duo leave behind a trail of chaos as they encounter many unsuspecting citizens to terrorize and catch off guard.
Previous Jackass films were nothing more then a sporadic mix of gross out shock clips. The charm of the previous films was that you never knew what the crew would do next to push the limits of bad taste. The Jackass crew were without fear and as such, I couldn’t help but to keep laughing in awe as they strived to constantly top themselves. Here in lies the problem with Bad Grandpa. The film hinges on a one-note joke that quickly becomes banal. A joke designed to lure unsuspecting people and watch them react to Knoxville’s lewd and crude old man antics. That one joke is funny for maybe 15 minutes before fizzling out entirely.
Bad Grandpa aspires to do for the Jackass franchise what Sacha Baron-Cohen did with Borat. The only difference is that Borat thrived on mocking Middle America by exposing its own hypocrisy. Bad Grandpa, on the other hand, shows a heart towards its targets of ridicule. While Borat painted the people of Middle America as Deeply Seeded Racist Bigots, Bad Grandpa exposes its tolerance. The unsuspecting targets of ridicule aren’t statures of influence rather they are everyday common folk. They generally express befuddlement of Irvin’s appalling behavior. Some even show genuine concern. Others show forgiveness of the old man’s behavior. More often then not, the subjects find themselves laughing with Irvin.
Bad Grandpa doesn’t have a mean bone in its body, but that good nature winds up being its flaw. For this type of prank to work you need a little malevolence in order to provoke a stronger punch line. Unfortunately, Knoxville is too restrained to go all the way with the joke. Therefore making it a prank that is nowhere near as funny as Knoxville and company would lead you to believe. Worse still, it’s a prank that cannot sustain its 90-minute run time.
** out of *****
-Daniel M (follow me @ danielma861)