After starring in several lousy feature films (remember Fun Size? The Last Stand? Movie 43?), it’s great seeing Johnny Knoxville, an auteur of immaturity, back doing what he does best: being a jackass. After 2010’s Jackass 3D made a killing at the box office ($170 million worldwide, the highest grossing entry of the series), fans were left wondering what the rag tag crew of absurdity would do next, especially after member Ryan Dunn was killed in a drunk driving accident in 2011. Though only Johnny Knoxville is back in front of the camera this go around, Bad Grandpa has almost entirely the same crew, including director Jeff Tremaine and co-writer Spike Jonze (the beloved director of the upcoming Her), and is a winning extension of the Jackass franchise. And by winning I mean it’s absolutely ludicrous. Somewhere, Borat is very, very proud.
Focusing solely on the boozy, racist, and crude 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Knoxville, in about three-hours worth of convincing old age makeup), many are wondering if taking a glorious bit from Jackass and stretching it across a 92-minute feature will kill the joke, but luckily Bad Grandpa pulsates the gut-bustingly funny in almost every scene. The film follows the recently widowed Zisman as he takes his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), across the country to his father’s house in North Carolina after his mother is incarcerated. With more of a cinematic structure, Bad Grandpa feels less meandering than the Jackass films and is more focused, which make the out-of-control hijinks even stronger. It’d be a shame to ruin any of the countless jokes or set pieces, but from the minute the film begins, with young Billy talking about his mother’s crack addiction, you’ll be laughing out loud. Even the jokes that don’t stick, such as those revolving around Billy’s downbeat father, still warrant chuckles. Most of the time you’ll be laughing your ass off and jumping out of your seat, evidenced by the many audience members who were howling in shock-and-awe at the screening I attended.
What the film does so well is that it not only features several shocking pranks (a fart competition at a diner goes to cringe-worthy extremes) but it also captures the reactions of the innocent bystanders really effectively. Switching between raw surveillance footage and digital cameras, it’s obvious Knoxville really surprised the hell out of people with his shenanigans and the reactions are infectiously funny and, more importantly, feel genuine. Knoxville is a seasoned prank-daredevil and the young Nicoll, with his cherubic build and soft, angelic voice, is more than up to the task of going toe-to-toe with the veteran jackass. In an ode to Little Miss Sunshine, the two must take Irving’s deceased wife across boarders with them, though how they get the body around makes up one of the film’s many great jokes. There’s also a child pageant that ends in similar hilarious fireworks.
The bottom line is that you already know if this movie is for you. Anyone who found Borat and the three previous Jackass films funny will be perfectly at home here as jokes about testicles (those famous saggy testicles from Jackass make their best screen appearance yet), poops, farts, strippers, Jews, and more pile up one after the other. It’s crude and senseless but that’s exactly what you sign up for when you buy a ticket. If you need to leave the theater after seeing Irving get his penis stuck in a vending machine, well, you showed up to the wrong party. Bad Grandpa is vile, vulgar, and very, very funny. See it with a big crowd this weekend, it’s an absolute riot.
Review by Zack Sharf