Most know what they’re getting into when they sit down to watch something with the infamous “Jackass” logo plastered on it: over-the-top and increasingly dangerous back-to-back stunts that have no connection to one another other than the jackasses performing them. In this sense, the three movies that were previously released aren’t your typical story driven events. So it may surprise you to know that “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” actually is. Sure, the story is thin, cliché, poorly written, horribly executed and all around uninvolving, but it’s there. On that level, “Bad Grandpa” fails miserably, but it would be foolish to think those who venture to the theater to see it are going for the story. They’re going for the inanity, the ridiculous situations the make-up heavy Johnny Knoxville can get himself into and on that front, it delivers.
The story is simple (or, perhaps more fittingly, simplistic). Knoxville plays Irving Zisman, an 86 year old man whose wife has just died. He’s thrilled because now, for the first time in many years, he’s a single man and can hit the town and try to pick up women. However, during his wife’s funeral, his daughter shows up and drops his grandson off. It turns out she’s heading to jail, so he is now responsible for young Billy, played by Jackson Nicoll. He doesn’t want this burden, so he sets off on a road trip with Billy to drop him off at his father’s place in North Carolina.
And thus starts a road trip so outlandish it makes Thelma & Louise’s journey look relatively normal in comparison. Irving and the little headache accompanying him shove his dead wife in the trunk of his car, head out to a Bingo event where Irving hits on every woman who passes and even get into some shenanigans at a children’s beauty pageant where Irving convincingly dresses Billy up in a dress and passes him off as a girl. These moments are scripted similar to the way any hidden camera show or mockumentary film is scripted: the two actors are in on the joke while those around them are blissfully ignorant. While the movie itself is wildly uneven, some of these individual moments land so well that many viewers will struggle to find the time to breathe in between each enthusiastic guffaw they produce. Furthermore, due to the unpredictable nature of the people they encounter, the two are required to stay on their toes and adapt to the situation, ad-libbing lines of dialogue that only someone with no shame could possibly say. Indeed, “Bad Grandpa” has moments of absolute hilarity.
But those moments are, sadly, interspersed between stretches of crushingly dull and horribly unfunny nonsense. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Bad Grandpa” is at its best when Knoxville does what he does best: hurt himself. Although certainly tamer than the “Jackass” movies we’ve become familiar with, the film nevertheless contains enough physical jackass-ery to satiate the appetite of those who miss the group’s enthusiastic craziness. Knoxville’s ability to take physical punishment is again morbidly fascinating to watch, particularly in one scene involving an adjustable bed where his body is more or less folded in half.
What drags down “Bad Grandpa” the most isn’t its stretches of boredom, as even the best “Jackass” films have skits that don’t work, but rather its uninspired story. Irving Zisman has become such a well-known face to the “Jackass” faithful that a loose narrative isn’t necessary to string his antics along. Why not just go from skit to skit as is “Jackass” custom? It’s unfair to lob criticism at a movie that purposely has no structure like those films, but by forcing one in, it’s easy to pick apart that shoddy structure. By becoming more like a traditional film, “Bad Grandpa” loses some of its “Jackass” luster.
Further hurting “Bad Grandpa” are its dramatic shifts in visual quality—mostly due to the different types of hidden cameras that were needed to pull off these moments—and numerous breakings of the fourth wall. This isn’t a mockumentary like “Borat” where the person onscreen is aware he’s being filmed, so every time the characters look into the camera, it’s jarring, though to be fair, it doesn’t pull you out of the story like it would in another film because the story is so lousy anyway. But these problems don’t stop “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” from doling out at least three or four riotous laughs, though most perceptions of the film will rely on the viewer’s patience. Are the long stretches of unfunny filler material too boring to make this enjoyable? Or do those aforementioned riotous moments make up for it? Answers will vary wildly. As for me, I’m of the latter opinion. In terms of consistent laughs, it’s one of the most uneven films I’ve ever seen, but what it lacks in consistency, it makes up for with some truly inspired immaturity.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa receives 3/5