Film Review: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Though less funny than its extreme-stunt predecessors, this 'Borat'-style candid-camera comedy nonetheless delivers considerable dim-bulb 'Jackass' humor.

Johnny Knoxville takes the Jackass franchise into Borat territory with Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, a feature-length collection of indecent tricks tethered together—for the series’ first time—by an actual narrative. That story concerns Knoxville’s Irving Zisman, an elderly man first seen in Jackass 2 whom the actor—underneath a coat of latex makeup that makes him appear to be a gray, grizzled senior citizen—embodies as a horny troublemaker with a penchant for profanity, nudity and all-around lewdness. In Jeff Tremaine’s film (co-written with Knoxville and Spike Jonze), Zisman does everything in his power to act ridiculously amidst unsuspecting real people. That turns the action into a prolonged stunt—and one that’s made considerably funnier by the fact that the plot has him transporting his eight-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) from Nebraska to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he’s to be left with his father.

Their saga is initiated by twin events—the death of Zisman’s wife, and the incarceration of Billy’s drug-addicted mom—that Knoxville and Nicoll milk for copious laughs. An early bit in which Zisman takes the news of his spouse’s passing with jubilation while the woman sitting next to him at the doctor’s office listens, stunned, to his reaction is part and parcel of the action’s hoax-y nature, which continues with Billy telling law office waiting room people about his mother’s love of crack. All of this is recorded on hidden cameras that fixate on the faces of the victims of Bad Grandpa’s jokes and, as in Borat, most of those are minority and/or lower-class Southerners. Nonetheless, the film doesn’t discriminate on gender or racial grounds, finding a diverse collection of targets for its gags, which also include Zisman getting his penis stuck in a soda machine (leading to an inanely inspired stretching-phallus gag) and a farting competition in a diner that culminates with the proceedings’ most unexpected and explosive punchline.

Those bits, as well as the fact that Zisman is subtly portrayed as Jewish (evident from his use of Yiddish terms), rarely provide any underlying social commentary or critique; unlike Sacha Baron Cohen, Knoxville is merely a gleefully juvenile clown—and an accomplished one at that. While Bad Grandpa loses steam whenever it concentrates on the banter between its stars, and even though its practical jokes aren’t quite on par with the finest from the Jackass films, there’s still choice nonsense on display throughout. That’s due in large part to the potty-mouthed performance of Nicoll, whose ability to keep a straight face while affectionately calling a stranger “Daddy,” or puking up beer to the horror of passing joggers, makes him a perfect complement to Knoxville’s geriatric pervert. Together, they’re a winning combination, exploiting people’s assumptions about both the young and the old for rude, shocking hilarity, be it via Zisman’s phenomenally unseemly trip to an African-American nude-male strip club, or Billy’s even more outrageous and amusing participation in a Carolina little-girl beauty pageant that serves as the riotous apex of the duo’s prankster road trip.