** out of ****
Reviewing a feature-length film that is driven by real-life pranks, such as the work of Sacha Baron Cohen, or that of Johnny Knoxville with this particular movie, isn’t unlike an attempt to review pornography. Am I evaluating a movie or the money shots? Let’s not think about that. Bad Grandpa is a mostly awful movie with a few moments of perfect hilarity. I was glad I saw it, if just for those moments. At least they saved the best part for last and when the movie was over, there was a guilty little grin on my face but it didn’t last very long. Bad Grandpa is nothing compared to the tears of shameful joy that followed my viewing of Knoxville and his friends in the earlier Jackass movies.
Bad Grandpa follows Knoxville, dressed up as an old man with a child (the excellent Jackson Nicoll) pretending to be his grandson, pulling all kinds of sordid practical jokes on unsuspecting people. It’s an old man and a child. What are you going to do? I guess that’s the dare. What does it take for people to lose their cool with such a duo? Built around these hidden-camera shenanigans, are staged scenes, which create the story of a recently widowed old man who is resentfully taking a road trip with his grandson. The kid’s mom has been thrown in jail but his criminal father is willing to take him, hence the trip.
As predicted, this movie lacks the variety we have come to expect from the Jackass crew. Trying to revolve an entire film around Knoxville’s famous Grandpa character was a risk that didn’t pay off. Using a half-assed narrative, as Cohen did with Borat and Brüno, creates a fictional vessel, which makes one question the authenticity of each prank. It’s distracting to wonder how many people, in each given scene, are in on the joke.
Unlike Cohen, Knoxville’s improvisational skills are limited. There are way too many scenes of Grandpa making women uncomfortable. There are parts later in the movie when such disgraceful behavior actually provokes some funny reactions but the cheap laugh has already been played to death. I think less of Knoxville for falling back on it too often.
Knoxville’s talent is really in physical endurance through dangerous stunts. Using his Grandpa character perform actions, which could paralyze or kill someone over the age of fifty, are the most effectively jaw-dropping parts of the movie.
The highlight scenes of the film include, an out-of-control electronic bed in a used furniture store, ladies night at a dive bar, fishing at a golf course (which results in a bad punch-line inspired by a South Park episode), and a child beauty pageant (inspired by Little Miss Sunshine).
Jeff Tremaine’s direction is best suited to the documentary style he used in the other Jackass movies. I was a little bummed-out that Spike Jonze was so involved in this production and only bothered to play a corpse.
What definitely helps the movie, is the standard end-credit montage, which includes many of the “you’re-on-‘Candid Camera’” results of the film’s pranks. This is always the more endearing footage to see in the Jackass movies because it reveals the tender side of these bad-boy filmmakers who show empathy towards the people they’ve pranked. More often than not, these seemingly mean-spirited endeavors have proved how many good people are out there, willing to stand up to bad behavior –even if it was by people who could afford to get away with it.