Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Johnny Knoxville dons an old man suit to play an eighty-six-year-old widower named Irving who cannot wait to get back in the pond and chase much younger women. His plan comes to sudden halt, however, when his drug-addicted daughter drops off his grandson—to her mother’s funeral, no less—because she is going back to jail. Not wanting to take care of the boy, Irving’s solution is to take the Billy (Jackson Nicoll) to his irresponsible father in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” based on the screenplay by Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze and Jeff Tremaine, is a comedy that is purposely stupid, crude, dirty—and it made me laugh multiple times, at times so hard that my laughter turned into cackle. But the film is held back one fundamental misstep: It forces a narrative involving a grandfather’s relationship—or lack thereof—with his grandson which garners a few “Aww” moments but they are ultimately irrelevant because the humor takes a backseat for a few minutes. In comedies that are propelled by reaction shots, a few minutes is a long wait.
Irving getting his penis stuck in a soda vending machine sets the stage for the type of humor it employs to get us to keep watching—not because it is supposed to be realistic but because it is so over-the-top that looking away is near impossible. While such a situation would have likely come across as idiotic in a mainstream fiction comedy, it works very well here because we observe the reactions of regular people who happen to be at the right place and right time during filming.
In a way, watching these candid segments is an opportunity for us to laugh at ourselves. Given a similar situation, we might react in a similar manner. As a viewer, it is easy to judge and say that a person is silly or stupid or downright criminal for acting a certain way, but we have all been in a situation where we have no idea what to do or say that we succumb to the pressure of what is happening and, inevitably, make a mistake. In the latter half, Irving tells his grandson that “you can get away with almost anything; all you have to do is try.” And it appears time and again that he is right.
Many scenes are effective or close to being hilarious so we laugh anyway. This includes the furniture sale and the woman responsible for a certain remote, Irving trying to ship his grandson in a box, Ladies Night in a strip club that starts off awkward and ends up being beyond awkward that I actually covered my eyes, and the beauty pageant competition that bears some similarities to Michael Arndt’s “Little Miss Sunshine.
Less funny is the running gag involving a corpse. We all know that it is a fake… and we get the feeling that people who are not aware that there are hidden cameras everywhere recognize that the dead body is a fake, too. So, what’s funny about it? Pretty much nothing. And what is up with that Moby Dick scene? Why is that funny? Because they have the budget to buy a really big fish that looks super fake on camera?
The film, directed by Jeff Tremaine, is worth seeing for its strength: setting up a ridiculous situation and simply watching passersby dealing with what is in front of them. The screenplay does not need the usual bonding storyline during a road trip. Although Irving can be a bit of a curmudgeon at times, not once are we really convinced that he does not like or care about Billy. Nicoll appears to be having a great time all the way through.