The fact that the Jackass crew would like to broaden their big screen horizons is gratifying. However, the idea of expanding their weakest sketch to feature length is enough to make even the biggest Jackass fan hesitantly put their guard up.
The good news, however, is Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa works. It shouldn’t work as well as it does for the reasons stated above, but the slapstick Stanleys at Dickhouse Productions and MTV Films (who will always stay forever young at heart) have found a way to take their hidden camera stylings and uncomfortable moments provided by their victims and create an endearingly sweet and wildly hilarious flick.
This outing with the pranking rock’em sock’ems has more of a softer bite, but is just as dangerous as any movie being led by fearless Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s expected that Bad Grandpa will be compared to the strokes of pushy shocks concocted in Borat and Brüno, but this movie is far less cruder and aberrant than Larry Charles’ hidden camera filmography.
Bad Grandpa does have those moments of inappropriate humour. Mostly with a few sight gags having to do with old man privates and various ways our leading geezer Irving Zisman refers to female genitalia. The film, however, is far more interested in telling a story about two polar opposites who slowly grow to like each others company while embarking on a road trip across the US. It isn’t original – and the production knows that – but, it’s an exception here.
Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two, Jackass 3D, and all the straight-to-DVD semi-sequels have kept up with its lightning fast array of skits featuring brilliant stupidity. Bad Grandpa marks the first time this production crew have attempted to tell a coherent story while pulling off stunts.
The movie has that learning curve feeling of a bunch of people trying to figure out how to utilize their comfortable filmmaking tactics in new waters. While the camera work on this particularly long trip is the definition of guerrilla filmmaking with shots being occasionally too tight or on too much of a dutch angle, it lends the proper fly-on-the-wall approach for the audience and director Jeff Tremaine has done a commendable job at knowing where to put his cameras in order to pull off a silly ruse. Besides, you can only make hidden cameras have an attractive look to an extent.
Johnny Knoxville throws himself into situations as the abused curmudgeon with a warm, frisky heart. He completely loses himself in the role, giving audiences an easy time buying his elderly performance. A big pat on the back goes towards the make-up team as well.
Knoxville works very well with young Jackson Nicoll (who plays Billy, Irving’s grandson) as the two improvise off each other using a loose script written by Knoxville, Tremaine, and Spike Jonze (who shows up during the end credits as his infamous delirious old woman character from Number Two).
Speaking of those end credits, Bad Grandpa’s smartest move is during the last few minutes of the film. Amongst the outtakes and the behind-the-scenes hootenanny, we’re shown moments where Knoxville and company tell the unsuspecting public that they’ve accidentally been starring in a movie.
In the wrong hands, Bad Grandpa could’ve been manipulative in the worst way possible. Scenes where the victims are involved with the film’s exposition depend on honest reactions and outspoken individuals. By showing us these reveals, it displays that everyone attached to the production has a good attitude. They’re not out to humiliate or hurt, but rather provide those accidental actors – and the audience – with a smile and a good story for later. I believe the minds behind Bad Grandpa have hit a home run.
Note to Dickhouse Productions and MTV Films: Remember, just because Bad Grandpa floats doesn’t mean every Jackass sketch is durable enough for feature length. I dread the thought of Jackass Presents: Dave England’s Defecation Domination!