One would think after watching a gang of young, daring rascals dress up and pull pranks for the better part of two decades that the whole shtick might start to get old. But I as watched poo splatter on the wall and fake balls dangle and get caught in machines in Bad Grandpa it became clear seeing old men being crude and crass is all anyone can ask for to lighten up a Saturday night.
This is probably why Johnny Knoxville and Co. felt it necessary to bring back their depraved, elderly character, Irving Zisman back to the screen in Borat-style road trip movie wherein he must cart his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), to his father’s house in North Carolina. Along the way are some classic pranks like the “obvious stealing from a grocery store” and “penis and such caught in a machine” we’ve all come to love at the expense of the poor unsuspecting public who would rather film it on their IPhones then help. Sure you can say it’s an expose on the desensitization of America, but really it’s just a guy in makeup being a jackass.
What’s impressive about the whole set-up is that the pranks—unlike the random, ‘whatever comes to mind’ style of the Jackass movies—the gags are designed to match the progression of the story. For instance, when they begin their trip they make a moving crew unload Irving’s dead wife into their trunk so they can take her along, or when its’ time to stop and get some food they rig a quarter operated plane to launch him through the air after he’s done hitting on patrons. Say what you will about the vulgarity or immatureness of the jokes, but these guys are pros at making disgusting pranks blend with a story.
Unfortunately, not all the jokes land. Some, like the aforementioned ‘putting grandma in the trunk’ bit, feel like missed opportunities to do something really shocking. There were one or two times when I sat there awaiting the expected, jaw-dropping Jackass punch-line only to be disappointed as the cut away too quickly. But on the other hand, scenes like the accidental pooing on the wall (I’m a 21-year man, I’m a 21-year-old man) and Irving chasing around people with his balls to his knees had me at near tears as I gasped for breath.
But after I regained consciousness, I was surprised to realize that between the moments of depravity there were brief moments of real heart. Granted it was the cliché ‘man who discovers he loves something’ angle, but seeing Knoxville and Nicoll become swept up in the realism of it all made everything seem more natural. It was less Billy and Irving making up sweet and tender line and more so Johnny and Jackson being the warm people they really are. There’s not enough to make you cry, but enough to see there was some genuine thought process beyond the horny grandpa role.
If you love the Jackass movies, this is for you. If not, then there’s no point in me trying to convince you. You’ve determined this stuff is childish and crude and therefore not funny. But for the people in the latter group let me just say this: I was reading Michael Caine’s wonderful book “Acting in Film” and one point he made about being a true actor is being able to role with whatever is thrown at you as if it came naturally. If that’s what makes a master actor than Knoxville, and even Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen, are truly some of our greatest actors today. Seeing them in potentially life-threatening situations, arguing with people and just rolling with the punches is a sign of true acting talent. Of course, such a silly though would ruin any credibility I have so I’m just gonna leave it at these men being extremely quick witted and brave and Bad Grandpa is an often but not always funny testament to that.