Synopsis: 86-year-old Irving Zisman takes a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to take his 8 year-old grandson, Billy, back to his real father
Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicholl
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Sometimes it’s just good to laugh and not have to think too hard about it or hate yourself the next day. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a departure from the normal Jackass set-up that gives you free reign to laugh and not worry that you’re doing it at the expense of others.
Though I’ve sat through the first three Jackass movies with a mixture of both horror and laughter I wasn’t sure what to think about their newest film. The titular character was introduced in previous Jackass films and was used to good effect in the brief segments but how would a feature length film based on the character pan out? More importantly, what of the gags that the Jackass troupe is known for? Would they work as well in a structured setting or would they prove to be better suited for the free-form style that had already been successful in the previous entries in the series?
Well, much to my surprise the film is a lot better than I thought it was going to be with more of a focus on funny gags rather than moments to make you gag. Gags aside, at its heart Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa has a nice message about the bonds of family and the relationships between the young and old. There’s also a healthy dose of penis jokes…and that never hurts.
Though the film takes a little while to get going, when it does take off it hums along nicely. After his druggie daughter can’t take care of her son (Jackson Nicholl, Fun Size), she enlists the help of her dad Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville, The Last Stand) to deliver the boy to his loser father via a cross country road trip. Along the way they stop at male strip clubs, beauty pageants, bingo halls, and country kitchen-esque restaurants which provide the settings for quite a few well set-up and usually bravely foul but always bravura pranks.
This film goes beyond one off pranks and finds ways to make these situations actually funny…rather than being funny at the price of humiliating others. There are some nice slices of life moments when the prank targets wind up making some surprisingly sensitive and honorable decisions when faced with the choices Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine offer them. Their reactions may be funny but they also show the good in people at the same time. Maybe there’s a small softening of the Jackass troupe and there’s a big pay-off to be had if you can just go with it.
The movie actually works best when its just Knoxville and Nicholl in the car during exchanges that feel unscripted but clearly have at least some structure to them. Both actors are game for fun but it’s not hard to imagine that Nicholl will look back at this in 10 years and cringe at the some of the things he’s asked to do and say to total strangers.
Still…it all seems in good fun and that’s what these movies are ultimately going for anyway. I think this movie came along when I just needed to laugh – and isn’t that what these films have always been about? It’s not the throwaway distraction that the other Jackass films have been but a harmless and enjoyable prank-filled trek across the US.