“Better Living Through Chemistry” Review

Even great actors can falter in a film if they’re not used properly. Take Sam Rockwell, a fantastic personality who can ooze charisma for any upbeat role. The only roles I could not buy him in are the sad wimp or the aggressive bully. ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ likes to think he can fill both designations and lets the trainwreck unfold in a terribly hateable script. Sam Rockwell is a great talent, but even he can’t save a comedy so vile and unlikable that’s devoid of almost all humor.

Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell) is the meekly innocent pharmacist in a town packed with jerks. His wife is a neglectful health nut, his son is a school shooting waiting to happen and everybody he knows more or less walks all over him. It isn’t until he meets lonely housewife Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde) when he actually feels needed and appreciated. Fed up with both their lives leading nowhere with little appreciation, the two have an affair behind closed doors or in a car when presumably nobody is watching.

Then, in a strange jump, Doug decides it would also be fun to start pilfering pills from the pharmacy he runs. I guess he figured that if you’re going to be unfaithful you might as well commit felonies and get high in the process. He also uses these pills to his advantage in order to beat his wife at a bike race and then ravish like never before in the bedroom. He’s also finally able to connect with his son, but only through cussing and causing public property damage with ninja stars.

I know this whole experience should be seen as a warped way for Doug to gain some backbone, but it’s more of the makings of a villain ala Falling Down. You wish you could be happy for Doug, but it’s hard to root for him when he sinks down lower than the awful characters who spit on him. It isn’t long before Doug and Elizabeth decide to off her old man so they can runaway together. By this point you naturally don’t expect the plan to work and look forward to the inevitable downfall of the character.

But guess what? That moment never comes and were instead treated to a happy ending via left-field accidents that resolve everything. Such an ending would imply that we like the character of Doug and want to see everything work out nice for him in the end. It’s a little hard to feel that when the character is committing all these illegal and immoral acts with a devilish sensibility. You’d almost feel sorry for his dark descent if it weren’t for the fact that he got away with everything. Instead, you just end up hating Doug the same way you despise all the other characters. He sinks to their level and succeeds.

I’m still hung up on how he decided to make the massive leap from having an affair to stealing prescription drugs. Maybe if he’d actually fantasized or considered it at one point in the film it would actually make sense. Heck, the film had a perfect opportunity to use his drugged up and party-boy delivery assistant as an inspiration. It wouldn’t make Doug anymore likable with this added in, but it would at least make some sense of his actions.

There are some early moments where I was convinced that this could be an acceptable dark comedy. In a scene similar to ‘One Hour Photo’, Doug explains the various customers of the small town and the secrets he keeps on all of them. That right there would’ve been a great starting point for the story, but it’s rarely taken advantage of in the movie. We’re instead led down a not-so-likable path of drug abuse and wild sex, but not the kind where anybody gets hurt. After all, that would ruin all of Doug’s “fun”.

I know that Geoff Moore and David Posamentier were aiming for dark comedy here, but I fear they have forgotten the comedy part. Every character just ends up becoming so over-the-top in their mean-spirited nature that they all turn into cartoonish villains. These two writers just cannot conceive likable characters with a script like this.

Doug bursts into his anti-social son’s room and gets on his good side not by being a dad, but trying act cool with foul language and encouraging violence. If my dad did that to me when I was 12, I would’ve called the cops on him. Instead, Doug’s kid learns to trust his dad and confess what’s wrong at school. And all it took was some illegal acts of destruction to get on his good side.

What’s really disheartening is that all these characters are so vile that you don’t feel anything for any of them. Then when the movie actually wants you to feel some emotions when the characters are sweet or placed in jeopardy, you couldn’t care less about how things play out. Then you see how things actually play out and you’re pissed at how lazy the writers were with the conclusion. This is one of the few films with an ending so terrible you may want to bolt yourself to the couch to prevent your fist from flying through the screen.

‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ never really delivers on being either a dark comedy or an uplifting tale of gaining confidence. If it weren’t so ridiculous in its plot and motivations, it could almost pass for a drama. But the combining of the two genres for a good-pharmacist-gone-bad story just doesn’t work here. The film has about two or three decent chuckles and maybe one or two moments of satisfying revenge, but nothing more than that.

“Best Night Ever” Review

Sometimes a filmmaker can surprise you. Take the writing/directing duo Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg for example. Up until now, they’ve only made awful parody films such as ‘Epic Movie’, ‘Disaster Movie’ and ‘Meet the Spartans’. But their latest film, ‘Best Night Ever’, is their first original film. There are no cutaway movie references or pop culture satire gags in sight. I’m impressed as I didn’t think these two could ever conceive a film without relying on making fun of films. And guess what? They’re still the worst filmmakers ever.

Told in the popular found-footage format, ‘Best Night Ever’ follows a bachelorette party bound for Las Vegas. When they arrive, however, a case of stolen credit card info leaves the four girls without a swanky room in the city of lights. Deciding not to let this set back their partying, they check in to a low-grade motel on the bad part of town. It’s then that the movie starts struggling to find things for these characters to do by throwing them into wild scenarios.

At one point they decide to buy cocaine from a valet. The valet then robs them and the girls are forced to find money via strange acts such as mud wrestling. The mud wrestling could’ve been interesting, but it’s entirely cut as it proceeds straight to the bloody aftermath. And then it’s just one forced scene after another including taking drugs they swiped from an ambulance because they literally do not know what to do next. This is a plot so bad even the characters know it.

As for the characters, you care for none of them because they never get proper development. All the ingredients are there as you have an uptight wife with criminal tendencies and a new mom who wants to be a party girl. Those are both great foundations to work from, but they never build to anything. You don’t make us care about characters by just slapping them with traits and then never using them. Without any characters to become attached to on any level, all we’re really watching is a bunch of crazy women running around Las Vegas doing stupid and illegal acts. No story, no character, no great lines; just random acts of stupidity and vulgarity.

The one good thing I can say about the direction is that Seltzer and Friedberg are committed to the found-footage format. They make sure a character is always holding the camera at some point with no weird or out-of-place shots. Everything else is a mess.

For making so many comedy films, Seltzer and Friedberg have zero sense of timing. Towards the end of the film, the girls run afoul of a naked, obese black woman that chases them through a hotel. That type of shock humor only has a lifespan of 30 seconds max. But, no, we follow her for what seems like forever in a chase scene that will not end.

But the worst moment by far is a sequence that lasts over 10 minutes in which the girls dash around Las Vegas fulfilling the bachelorette party scavenger hunt. These scenes are not scripted nor do they have any dialogue as that would detract from the annoying overlaying music. There are some films that feel like they were made just so the celebrities involved would get a chance to travel. It’s clear that these actresses were doing this for a chance to run around Las Vegas like loons and we get to watch them have fun without any acting.

Is it really a surprise that these guys don’t know how to write either? They may have done their best to stay original with the script, but their unfunny nature and terrible ideas remain intact. There is no real story or characters present in this movie. There are components that if properly assembled could make at least a cohesive story, but why use any of that when you can just cram in as many vulgar jokes as possible. Oh, and because they’re women partying, make sure they scream and squeal as much as possible at the top of their lungs.

Also, was I supposed to laugh at the scene where they kidnap the wrong guy who ripped them off, raid his house and then urinate and defecate on his face? Is this what comedy has come to in this day and age? I know some women would like to praise this film for being a raunchy comedy with an all female cast, but do you really want to bestow that progressive title on a picture that involves pooping on people’s faces for revenge? Even ‘The Hangover’, for all its vulgarity, still had some standards. Chalk this up to Seltzer and Friedberg’s inability to write women, characters, gags and comedy movies in general.

This is ground zero for humor. It’s as if an A-bomb of awful went off in this movie leaving nothing but plot-puppet characters dancing around Las Vegas. I know I’ve said this with every film they’ve ever made, but Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg need to stop making movies. There is no hope for these two as they’ve been making terrible movies for years and have shown zero sign of improvement. Move over, Ed Wood and Uwe Boll. Seltzer and Friedberg have secured their spot as the worst directors of all time and this being their first original movie ensures that title.

“The Hidden Fortress” Review

Akira Kurosawa is one of the best directors of all-time not just for his exceptional camera work, but for making samurai films both unique and fun. No film is more true of this then ‘The Hidden Fortress’, an adventure in feudal Japan seen through the eyes of two bumbling soldiers. It adds an unparalleled level of comic relief to a tale of sword fights and brutal warfare.

Trapped behind enemy lines after a failed campaign, Tahei and Matashichi try to lay low and find a way out of enemy territory. On their journey, they stumble upon a secret base for what they do not realize is a fallen clan. Within the mountains hides samurai general Rokurota and princess Akizuki who offer the two greedy men gold for safe passage to safer land. Agreeing to the task, Tahei and Matashichi try to maintain their friendship over monetary gain while Rokurota fends off any enemies and Akizuki deals with her lack of power. The journey is made all the more difficult as they hide the gold they’re transferring within wooden sticks that even the local authorities are aware of. Not to mention there is actually a price on the princess’ head.

This is easily one of my favorite Kurosawa films for the perspectives of both the characters and the camera. Several of the shots in the film are grand in scale involving hundreds of extras. One of the best scenes involves a massive wave of slaves rushing down a steep flight of stairs as guards attempt to fire on them before being rushed. The most memorable, however, is a pike duel Rokurota accepts with an old military buddy in a circle of soldiers.

The two comical soldiers are usually the trickster characters saddled to supporting roles, but it’s infinitely entertaining to watch them take center stage. They don’t become the heroes per se and they don’t exactly mend their ways all that much either. It’s a refreshing change of pace to the usual hero tale. Rokurota is best suited for this role as he makes the tough decisions that guides his group across shady ground. Princess Akizuki, however, has the most interesting development as she attempts to handle her fall from grace while still trying to do good for others.

It’s easy enough to see how this film was a large inspiration for ‘Star Wars’. The characters of C3Po and R2-D2 were clearly inspired by Tahei and Matashichi. I shouldn’t even have to mention who the samurai general and princess were inspired to create for George Lucas’ sci-fi epic. I cannot get enough of this movie as it just gets better every time I watch it. The film manages to mix perfect cinematography with an exceptional level of fun and cool. I still prefer ‘The Seven Samurai’ and ‘Yojimbo’ as the definitive samurai films of the genre, but ‘The Hidden Fortress’ is a close third simply for how much it redefined the architecture and looked good while doing it.

“American Hustle” Review

Director David O. Russel takes a con job tale and transforms it into a fast and stylish ride. He doesn’t gussy it up with lots of guns, gangsters and explosions, but keeps the plot moving so quickly with so many characters working on multiple levels. When it logically makes sense to take a dramatic approach, it goes for it. When there is a perfect moment for some comedy, Russel takes advantage of it. All of this feels organic and looks pretty darn sexy with the late-70’s backdrop.

Based on a true story, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) figures himself to be a mastermind con artist. He swindles many with various operations and his female partner Sydney (Amy Adams). They keep getting better and eventually fool around, despite Irving’s bitter wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and innocent son at home. Their scam operations are soon foiled by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), but he’s willing to let them off the hook if they work undercover to scam and blow the lid off a corrupt congressman. Irving ends up using all of his smarts to pull off a successful scam when the odds keep raising with so many changing variables involving the FBI, the mob and even his wife.

‘American Hustle’ has an organic flow, but still moves at a breakneck pace. It knows exactly when to be emotional, when to be hysterical and when to be sexy without wasting a beat. There are so many levels at play in this script for all these characters to shine and there is an undeniable charm in how they set out to achieve their own goals. Every character feels real and smart, including Jennifer Lawrence’s character. At first she just appears as an obnoxious wife who smokes too much and blows up the microwave, but she’s smart enough to keep a grip on her husband until she finally discovers what truly makes her happy in life. Needless to say, the performances from this all-star cast is a joy to witness. Christian Bale proves that he can fill just about any role as he embodies Irving with a potbelly and comb over.

At over 2 hours, ‘American Hustle’ felt like it went by too quickly given the quickness of the script and direction. We get to spend a lot of time with these characters and witness only the important and juicy scenes of this operation. Everything is kept extremely tight with hardly a single scene that doesn’t garner a laugh, a cringe or leave you salivating for more. At times the movie moves so fast that if you blink you’ll miss the ending. This may be a deterrent for some, but I just couldn’t get enough of how director David O. Russel was able to keep things moving with a smart and sexy vibe. It’s most certainly a film I’m going to want to come back to if not for the layered performances than for the amount of details that zooms past the screen.

“Saving Mr. Banks” Review

If you’re familiar with the life of Walt Disney, you know there was a little more than fairy dust and magic that went into his works. There’s a tale to be told of just about every film he’s credited on with some charming and some scandalous. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is a little of both in how the cocky dreamer attempts to acquire the rights for adapting ‘Mary Poppins’ into a feature film.

His biggest hurdle is the original author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). She completely loathes the Disney machine and can’t stand the thought of her novel being slapped up on the big screen by a cartoonist. It’s especially insulting given how personal the story and character are to her, relating to her rocky childhood in Australia. As we’re slowly given bits and pieces about Travers’ youth and the relationship with her father, the author finally decides to sell her novel to avoid poverty, but only under her conditions. A jaded Traver’ pops on over to Los Angeles where she supervises the writing process with meticulous and absurd demands. She even comments on the way the script should appear as she doesn’t understand or much care for the script writing format. The majority of the movie is a battle of personal goals as Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his team attempt to woo Travers into reaching a compromise.

The film jumps back and forth between Travers’ youth and her fight with Disney. Sometimes the two stories match up with the tone and other times it feels like an opportunity was missed for transitions. The story of young Travers’ eccentric father (Collin Farrell) and his downward spiral is certainly a tragic tale, but it feels very melodramatic in several aspects. To tell the truth, I was much more moved by the relationship adult Travers forms with her limo driver (Paul Giamatti). He first appears as an over-eager Disney servant, but ends up being the most sympathetic and interesting character that Travers comes into contact with. That’s not to say that Tom Hanks doesn’t do an exceptional job as the legendary Walt Disney. I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone else in that role and the playful bickering he has with Travers is priceless. Credit should also be given to the ‘Poppins’ creative team (Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Scwartzman) who put up with most of her crazy suggestions including the removal of the color red entirely from the film.

Ultimately, the performances were the main draw of ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ more than anything. Considering the film was actually a Walt Disney production, it does embellish the story in how Travers eventually comes to accept the screen version of ‘Mary Poppins’ (despite going against many of her initial wishes). The drama of both Travers’ father and her acceptance of what her novel really means feels a tad bit overdone the way it was written. Thankfully, the performances by every single cast member is pitch-perfect. I especially couldn’t keep my eyes off Thompson and Hanks whenever they’re clashing on screen. The most memorable moment is when a stone-faced Travers is lured into Disney Land with a vibrantly grinning Walt. She isn’t impressed or swayed by his words, but Walt is still happy as he was at least able to win a bet by getting her on the carousel. The constant back and forth between them make this otherwise exaggerated script much more appealing and entertaining than it should be.

“Frozen” Review

Disney’s latest animated musical certainly has a lot to offer. There are a lot of songs, plenty of characters and a story that’s more focused on sisterly love than finding prince charming. While ‘Frozen’ certainly does bring a lot of new elements to the table, it ends up like Chinese food; it tastes pretty good, but ultimately leaves you empty desiring more.

Anna spends her youth completely separated from her sister Elsa, hidden away in a room with her icy powers. When Elsa finally comes of age to inherit the throne, the two sisters finally connect for the first time in several years. But their reunion is cut short when Elsa accidentally exposes her dangerous powers and nearly injures her guests. Convinced she is a monster, Elsa retreats to nearby mountain where she assembles her ice fortress and casts a spell of eternal winter on the land. It’s up to Anna to save her sister and restore order with the help of the mountaineer Kristof, his trusty reindeer Sven and the comical snowman Olaf.

As Disney’s follow-up musical to ‘Tangled’ (from most of the same team no less), I couldn’t help but make comparisons. The songs, for example, are not as memorable and don’t have that same energy. For having twice as many musical numbers as ‘Tangled’, there wasn’t a single one that I found myself admiring. Some of them are still amusing as when Anna harps on life outside the castle and Olaf dreaming of being able to experience summer. Other songs just feel entirely out of place. The biggest song of the movie, “Let It Go”, feels somewhat misleading. Based on the tone and melody of that sequence, it seems as though Elsa finally embraced her powers with an upbeat outlook on her new sanctuary. It almost looked as if she were going to go into full-on villain mode which would’ve made the film a lot more interesting. Instead, she reverts back to being sad and ashamed when we next see her. Either “Let It Go” was a poor choice of music or Elsa has strange mood swings.

While the music and tone may not be impressive, the animation manages to pick up the slack. There are some gorgeous sequences involving lots of snow and perfectly timed slapstick. Most of the humor is in the department of Olaf, a character who I wasn’t fond of at first but soon warmed up to. Being a snowman, there are so many possibilities with removing body parts and reassembling himself with the abundant white resource. I ended up liking Olaf so much I almost wanted the story to be entirely about him. The other characters have some hilarious lines and physical gags as well, but they hardly compare. For instance, the reindeer Sven gets in some great expressions and poses, but all I could think of was the horse from ‘Tangled’. We’ve seen this same character with the same bit before. Give us something more than just a carbon copy, Disney.

I’ll give ‘Frozen’ some credit for taking a few risks and trying out some new material as it leads up to the happy ending we all see coming. But as far as Disney animated musicals go, this one was lukewarm. It attempts to juggle many characters with a plot that may be too intricate for its own good. There is still some detailed animation and exceptional gags, but I’ve come to expect most of this from Disney anyway. If they ever hope to top their surprise hit ‘Tangled’, they’re going to have to serve up something warmer than ‘Frozen’.

“Jeff Dunham: Achmed Saves America” Review

Jeff Dunham’s one-note ventriloquism puppet Achmed takes a leap into the world of animation. The result of a failed suicide bomber mission, Achmed is plucked from his Middle Eastern home and transported to America. Choosing to accept his now skeletal appearance, a family takes him as they mistake Achmed for a French exchange student. Though the tiny terrorist is still hellbent on destroying the Western world, he soon comes to adore the country via friendly people and all-you-can-eat buffets. Before you know it, he’s on a mission to save his new family.

I’ll preference this review by stating that I am not a fan of Jeff Dunham’s brand of comedy. All of his puppet characters spout mostly simplistic politically incorrect statements with a subtle tone of racism. That can be funny for a few bits, but this style seems to comprise the majority of his puppets. Achmed’s angle is that he keeps shouting “Silence! I kill you!” while making stereotypical observations of Western and Middle Eastern culture. Sure enough, this animated feature does just that by featuring all aforementioned exaggerations. Some of the characters Achmed meets includes the sexually confused teenage girl, the anal-retentive liberal, the gun-toting redneck and the angry terrorist leader who rolls over easily for something as simple as frozen yogurt.

Oddly enough, this seems a little toned down for Jeff Dunham. There is nothing that risque in any of the humor. In fact, most of it feels like watered down ‘Family Guy’ jokes with the constant pop culture references and questionable observations. There are a few jabs made at both east and west, but nothing all that biting. It’s almost as if Dunham is trying to steer his act in a new direction as he paints Achmed as a more sympathetic character who learns to love. It’s a logical progression for the story, but it kind of ruins the whole point of the character.

Speaking of ‘Family Guy’, the animation designs feel very uninspired with simplistic round faces and eyes. Thankfully, the actual animation itself is impressive for the sheer timing and detail in movement. If anybody deserves praise for this special, it’s the technical team that make most of the visual gags work and take full advantage of Achmed’s skeletal form. Achmed’s jaw literally drops in shock to which he replaces as if they were his contacts. He shatters when hit by a car and struggles to put himself back together. These are all solid gags that are handled rather well by the visual team.

But, wow, the majority of the written jokes are flat. Jeff even resorts to old-as-dirt bits such as the rabbi and the priest who walk into a bar. If you’re going to dig up those corpses, you better have an original idea to dress them up in. Sadly, Jeff mostly just goes for the easy laughs. He never really shocks and he never really surprises with originality. There are some amusing bits here and there (thanks mostly to the quality animation direction), but they hardly warrant an hour-long fish-out-of-water movie. This may have worked better as a TV pilot, but it sure wears thin for its movie-style length.

“Gravity” Review

Science fiction has the power to make outer space seems like wondrous frontiers of adventure and battles. In the case of ‘Gravity’, however, we’re taken on a terror ride in Earth’s orbit that seems a little too real. It’s movies like this that make me a little less disappointed my childhood dreams of being an astronaut didn’t pan out.

The film centers on two astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Their shuttle is obliterated by an orbiting debris storm that shreds anything in its path. With limited oxygen and jetpack fuel, the two must travel from space station to space station in search of a landing craft before the debris storm catches up with them. There are no extra characters or subplots as the movie is laser focused on the stunning journey back to Earth.

On one level, ‘Gravity’ sounds like a Roland Emmerich film with Murphy’s Law in full effect. Shuttles are smacked around by debris and interiors of space stations catch on fire. Surprisingly, though, there is a tremendous amount of heart in Sandra Bullock’s character as she strategically makes her journey home. She doesn’t have much to come back to which forces her to find a reason to live when the odds of survival reach critical lows.

Props needs to be given to director Alfonso Cuaron and his top-notch visual effects team that sell outer space better than any other film out there. Everything from the camera swinging around a zero-g environment to the little details of how the actors move in such a space is a real visual treat.  You never once feel like you’re just watching two actors bounce around a sound stage. The icing on the cake is the less-is-more sound editing in how all of the explosions and destruction in space is kept silent. The quiet nature of these scenes really enhances the chilling scares of the black void.

‘Gravity’ is destined to be a sci-fi classic not for its story or even characters, but the emotion and brutal atmosphere of how ruthless outer space is portrayed. Yes, it’s essentially a technological thrill ride, but it happens to be the best of its kind on all fronts. It does away with the fat that usually accompanies disaster/survival films and delivers on every nail-biter moment with genuine thrills. You don’t see too many technological marvels of cinema with such an emotional and focused core which is what makes ‘Gravity’ such an epic in my book.

“Big Bad Wolf” Review

How much more grim do these fairy tales have to get before they’re pure trash? Yeah, I understand the fun to be had with pumping classics such as Hansel & Gretel and Snow White with lots of action and violence. Heck, I’m all for it if it can be done with a certain level of creativity. But ‘Big Bad Wolf’ (also known as ‘Huff’) is ground-zero for these types of adaptations with uninspired ideas and a disgustingly hateful script based on ‘The Three Little Pigs’.

The stepfather known as Huff (get it?) has three stepdaughters that he preaches the dark word of the Bible to on a daily basis. The stepdaughters are named Brixi, Styx and Shay (GET IT!?). When Huff isn’t screaming at his family, beating his family or deciding who to rape in his family, he likes to dabble in selling drugs. But when the wife swipes the drug money and forces her daughters out the door for a better life, Huff gets steamed and goes hunting with Bible and knife in hand.

So why is Huff such a hypocritical zealot who is abusive to every human on Earth? At one point it seems like it may have something to do with his inhaler, but that trait (as with the mafia subplot) just doesn’t go anywhere. We never once get a chance to see his backstory or his inner demons as the film seems far more preoccupied with the hunt. And that’s all the film really is: a brutal hunt. Huff tracks down a stepdaughter, demands his money, rips her clothes off, stabs her and moves on. Why does he need to murder them? It may be the Jesus in his head telling him to smite the wicked, but, again, this is never focused on for very long. We don’t need to develop any of these characters because the director thinks that a stepfather viciously raping and killing his daughters is entertainment enough.

There’s just nothing to like about this movie. The acting is phoned in by all involved, the violence towards family members is unwatchable and the grand finale where Huff finally gets a taste of his own medicine is very underwhelming. In an interview with director Paul Morrell, he states that his reasoning for making this film was because he’s never seen a horror feature based on ‘The Three Little Pigs’ motif. Well, congratulations, Paul, you’re the first to make such a movie. It’s a terrible movie, but at least you get to have that claim to fame if nothing else.


“Bad Grandpa” Review

Since the release of the first Jackass movie in 2002, the stunt and shock of these good old boys have slowly been replaced by many amateur imitators on both television and YouTube. Thankfully, the elaborate team behind the Jackass trilogy has taken a slight step up by following the formula of Sacha Baron Cohen’s shock comedy. And while Bad Grandpa may not be on the same laugh level of Borat, it’s at least refreshing to see that they’re trying something more innovative than just Jackass 4. And as long as this means no Jackass 4, I’m all for it.

This time around there is actually a story and characters to go along with all the public pranks. Through an elaborate makeup process, Johnny Knoxville inhabits the role of Irving, a horny old man who is overjoyed at the recent death of his wife. He even confesses his glee to a woman sitting next to him in the waiting room. His newfound freedom is soon put on hold, however, as his witty 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) needs to be driven to his dad while his mom is in prison. The dad happens to be a deadbeat drug dealer who only accepts the child for the government paycheck, but it’s of little concern to Irving who is more interested in getting rid of Billy and chasing tail. However, after spending some time on the road having fun with Billy…well, you can see where this is going to end up. But, let’s be honest, the story isn’t what is important here. It’s just a thin narrative used as an excuse for some skits ranging from vulgar wordplay to slapstick to the gross-out.

While I didn’t exactly get a hard laugh, there were a few moments that caught me off guard. Just about every segment here is very well thought out and funny for the sheer length these two characters are willing to go. I got to give credit to both Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll for maintaining face and always delivering a great line for whoever they run into. I also think it’s worth noting how Johnny Knoxville does a great acting job with Irving not just for the crass remarks but the genuine emotion. When he confesses to a bar patron about how he feels bad about leaving Billy with his father, you really believe the sincerity in his voice. It’s not exactly a grand performance, but the believability he displays in certain scenes is impressive. Even Jackson Nicoll does a fantastic job as a slick speaking youngster that comes off more innocent than condescending.

It feels a bit odd to write this about a movie with defecation and punches to the groin, but the antics of Johnny Knoxville and company seem a little soft in comparison to their competition. The movie is still quite funny, but it never really hit that heavy laugh point I had with Borat or even the Jackass trilogy. To be honest, though, that may be a good thing. I’ve seen plenty of public prank movies/TV series and some of them end up going way too far for a joke. Maybe I’m still just fuming over how awful The Amazing Racist bits were in InAPPropriate Comedy, but Johnny Knoxville impersonating an old man with a smart-mouthed kid just came off as charming. Again, it feels a bit odd writing that about a film where the kid drinks beer and chucks his grandma’s corpse off a bridge.

The movie ends with footage of the people in public finally being informed of the joke after each segment. Everybody seemed cool with the prank and nobody was irate at being lied to from those clips. It’s a perfect cap to a film that comes off a little more good-natured than you may be expecting from Jackass. Bad Grandpa certainly has brilliant moments of the shocking and the grotesque, but it never really crossed that line of being too offensive or trying too hard for a joke. It just has that certain level of crude that never boils over into complete disgust.

I probably won’t be quoting this duo anytime in the future, but I was sufficiently entertained by their road trip excuse for some fun skits. As far as pranks go, the Jackass team prove once again that they’re still the best both for the laughs and the technique. And if they’re willing to try new ideas like wrap more narratives and characters around their comedy, the future looks bright for these old geezers. My only hope is that they retire to something less draining before Johnny Knoxville really doesn’t need makeup for this role anymore.