Bad Grandpa: Wait…There’s Actually a Story?

When I first heard they were making this movie, I was like, “Ugh. They’re taking a character from one of the Jackass sketches and making an entire movie around it? This won’t work.” And then the trailer came out. I laughed the first time I saw it. I laughed the second time I saw it. I laughed the fifty-eighth time I saw it. And I thought, “Okay, maybe there’s something here.” So let’s talk Bad Grandpa

Here’s how Paramount describes the plot: “86 year-old Irving Zisman is on a journey across America with the most unlikely companion, his 8 year-old grandson Billy in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. This October, the signature Jackass character Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) and Billy (Jackson Nicoll) will take movie audiences along for the most insane hidden camera road trip ever captured on camera. Along the way, Irving will introduce the young and impressionable Billy to people, places, and situations that give new meaning to the term child-rearing.”

If you’ve ever seen the Jackass films, then you already know what Bad Grandpa is like. It’s an entertainment formula that has succeeded for that group for over a decade in both film and television, and, hey, why fix what isn’t broken? At the heart of every Jackass production, we have schadenfreude (taking pleasure in other people’s troubles). Sometimes, it’s physical pain; other times, it’s people almost getting in fights over something ridiculous. Whatever it is, it works for director Jeff Tremaine and his shining star, Johnny Knoxville, who wears prosthetics to become Bad Grandpa‘s Irving Zisman.

While Bad Grandpa doesn’t seem as fun as the other Jackass films—which I maintain is because part of Jackass‘ charm is in the group dynamic—Knoxville can carry a movie on his own. How he’s able to turn into Zisman and stay Zisman throughout every prank without laughing or caving to people’s reaction is impressive. In fact, Dustin Rowles with Pajiba says Knoxville deserves Oscar consideration because of that very reason. Sure, while award-winning actors might lose weight, wear prosthetics, or get so deep into method acting that they overdose on meds and die, they still have the option of multiple takes on a controlled set. Knoxville, on the other hand, is saying and doing inappropriate things to real people in real settings, where he could easily get his ass kicked. Not to mention, he stays in character while doing so. Rowles’ article is a great read, seriously.

You know what’s interesting about this movie though? Unlike Jackass, Bad Grandpa actually has a coherent storyline. It’s thin, but it makes sense, and it doesn’t try to be any more complicated than it should be. It’s the story of a grandpa and his grandson bonding, after all. I’m a little torn on whether or not I liked having the story in place. It sounds weird, especially since I usually rip movies apart for not having a story, but maybe I’m just so used to the Jackass format of random pranks all thrown together into one movie that seeing a story throws me off. That being said, Bad Grandpa‘s story surprisingly has some heart. No matter how racist, sexist, or inappropriate the pranks are, the story always comes back to Zisman and his grandson’s relationship.

Now, here were some of my favorite pranks from this movie (because that’s the only reason you’re reading the spoilers). The funeral scene is absolutely hysterical. Zisman and his daughter get into a fight while mic’ed and all of the funeral guests (who, by the way, didn’t actually know Zisman’s wife; they were just kind enough to pay respects) try to remain polite and not listen, though it’s very hard. And, of course, Zisman ends up knocking the casket over and dumping his wife onto the floor, which immediately prompts the funeral guests to start singing to cover up the awkwardness.

And then there’s the diner scene. This is the one that had me crying because I was laughing so hard. Zisman and Billy are having a farting contest in this diner, and after Zisman tries to let a big one go, he ends up shitting on the wall. It’s disgusting as all hell, but the reactions of the people when they realize what happened is so funny. One man at the table across from them just starts laughing; the old ladies across from them are appalled; and one guy’s mouth drops hardcore when he sees the shit. I won’t give anything else away because there are so many good pranks that you need to see for yourself.

Overall, Bad Grandpa isn’t as funny as the Jackass films (in my opinion), but it still delivers plenty of good laughs. Where it lacked the group dynamic of the Jackass films, Bad Grandpa made up with a subtle and somewhat heartfelt story about the bond between a boy and his crazy grandpa. Don’t worry! Though there is actually a coherent plot to this movie, director Jeff Tremaine and screenwriter Spike Jonze didn’t lose focus of what truly makes these Jackass films successful—reactions. Bad Grandpa will never be considered a “great” movie because of its subject matter and type of humor, but that’s okay with me because Tremaine and Knoxville know their niche. Inappropriate humor has its place in this world, and the Jackass team has it pegged.

Bad Grandpa: C+

For my radio review of Bad Grandpa on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 27:03 mark).

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