Since the release of the first Jackass movie in 2002, the stunt and shock of these good old boys have slowly been replaced by many amateur imitators on both television and YouTube.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.