JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA Review

Anytime you approach a film with the word "jackass" in the title you can't so much look at it as an actual movie, but more as one big joke. That would obviously be the intent anyway, right? Why would you put such a degrading word in the title of your movie if not to be completely stupid and outlandish in the execution of what makes up the contents of said title? Naturally, as we are on our fourth installment in the Jackass movie franchise we have come to expect little more than stupidity out of these products with the bright side being they usually come with a lot of laughs. Originally premiering as a half hour MTV show in the Spring of 2000 Jackass introduced the world to the likes of Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera, and the late Ryan Dunn whom this current film is dedicated to. What these guys did was take the gags played over and over again on family-friendly shows like America's Funniest Home Videos and take them to extremes. They were able to set up ridiculous stunts and scenarios that would no doubt induce a fair amount of pain for them, but equal amounts of laughter for the audience. The pain was no doubt worth it despite the show only running for two years as it was able to spawn the aforementioned movie series beginning in 2002 and adding another installment every four years since. With each of these films having a marginal budget compared to what they usually pull in opening weekend it is no surprise we keep getting and will continue getting either direct sequels or spin offs such as this latest incarnation. Knoxville brings back his Irving Zisman character who he has used countless times before and stretches the sketch to feature length. Not to doubt the trickery of these guys, this installment doesn't trade-in the traditional pranks and gags that include the players and unsuspecting victims for narrative and emotional impact, but it does attempt to include both of these elements which is both a bit of a surprise and one of the detractors of the film. It is hard enough for us to take the material seriously, but for Knoxville and his crew not to let the audience in on the joke seems an odd choice. This is slightly redeemed, but it's almost too little too late.

As opposed to the previous Jackass films, Bad Grandpa goes for the route more familiar to Sacha Baron Cohen and his Borat and Bruno films where Knoxville goes in disguised as the 86 year-old Zisman and exposes facets of American culture through highlighting the oddness and obscurity that are known, but largely ignored aspects of society. Don't get me wrong, where Cohen's films attempt to make strong social commentaries Bad Grandpa has no such ambitions, but the pageant bit as shown heavily in the films trailer, is an unavoidable piece of satire on both the pageants themselves and how they have brought humanity such abominations as Toddlers & Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. We meet Irving as he receives the news his wife has passed to which he proclaims, "I'm free!" He then turns to the woman beside him and spouts off a few more lines that she naturally finds both shocking, unbelievable and darkly funny. It is in these candid moments with the unsuspecting victims caught in his path that both Knoxville and young Jackson Nicoll as Irving's grandson Billy shine. Whether the boy was being fed lines or not he plays them off with expert timing and Knoxville is simply happy to be back in his comfort zone doing what he excels at. The problem with many of these bit this time around though is that the payoff never seems to come through or justify the set-up. Sans the pageant bit (which is by far the films best and it knows it) a good portion of the other road trip antics feel safe or as if they didn't come to fruition in the way the writers and director Jeff Tremaine (who has directed all the Jackass features) intended or hoped they would. There is a bingo hall debacle that is inherently funny and is made so by the people in which Irving encounters, but it never escalates or becomes something appallingly grotesque as its clear Knoxville was pushing so hard for. When Irving calls for movers to help him move his deceased wife from their bed into the trunk of his car they actually go through with it rather than make a scene, in fact, if it didn't serve as a point in the story they were telling it seems it would have been left on  the cutting room floor.

Billy (Jackson Nicoll) plays countless trick on his Grandpa, Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville).
That all being said, what the film is lacking is a sense of danger. With the Jackass films we always feared for what might come of the situations these guys get themselves into while the only obvious option for that here is a set-up where Zisman meets with his estranged son-in-law Chuck (Greg Harris doing his best Danny McBride impersonation) to exchange the custody of young Billy as his mother, Kimmie (Georgina Cates), is in prison because she "likes crack". This exchange has conveniently been set-up at a bar where a biker gang who's mission statement is to protect abused and neglected children has set up shop. While this is a great set-up and gives ample opportunity for the players to evoke strong reactions from the no doubt versatile and extreme attitudes included in the biker gang there is never a level of tension reached that was present when the gang would set up an elaborate prank and leave one of their members in the dark as to what was really happening and placing them in a situation where real, genuine reactions came out. They were inherently hilarious and gave the audience a thrill to be able to see these types of things executed with no need to face consequences that would come from trying to pull something like this off on your own. These moments of genuine terror and hilarity are what push these kinds of films past the limit of just being obnoxious, teenage humor and into the realm of actual comedy. Bad Garandpa, while being consistently funny and providing plenty of solid jokes feels more forced that natural and that is a shame. If they only would have dropped the schtick while they were driving in the car and allowed us behind the scenes and to be a part of the operation I can't help but feel this would have been just as enjoyable as any of the previous entries in the canon, but instead there is valuable time wasted (the film runs a speedy 90 minutes) on ingenuine discussions between Billy and Irving that attempt to push the story forward, but do little more than take the place of what could have been much bigger and better laughs. Bad Grandpa is funny enough, but that doesn't do it for a series that usually causes numerous fits of uncontrollable laughter in packed theaters across the country it so easily takes shots at here.