Published Oct 24, 2013Attempting to marry the inspired lunacy of the Jackass films with the saccharine story of an eight-year-old kid saddled with increasingly thin options in parental figures, Bad Grandpa is mostly able to have its cake and throw it around the room a little too. Bouncing along at a jaunty pace, there are hearty laughs sprinkled generously throughout and, yes, even a little bit of heart to be found amongst the real-life sketches dreamed up by Johnny Knoxville, Jackass director Jeff Tremaine and frequent collaborator Spike Jonze (who's co-credited with the screenplay).
Knoxville's Irving Zisman character will be familiar to fans of Jackass as his octogenarian alter ego, which he portrays with the aid of some extremely convincing make-up. As in the TV show and films, Knoxville takes the cantankerous Irving to the street and elicits responses, typically of the horrified or bemused nature, which are captured via the use of carefully concealed cameras. In stretching the concept to a feature-length film, the focus is placed on the recently widowed Irving's relationship with his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), who has a mother in prison and a father who only agrees to take custody of the minor when he finds out hecomes with child support money.
Irving and Billy embark upon a cross-country car trip through the Southern U.S. to meet up with Billy's dad in Raleigh, bonding along the way over a shared love for chicanery and making people uncomfortable. Some of the scenarios they participate in as a duo, with Irving often using Billy to grease the wheels for awkward advances on women who couldn't be less interested. Others, as when Irving leaves their hotel for a night at the male strip club or Billy attempts to find a new father on city streets, are done separately.
Tapping into the same anarchic spirit that made Jackass so eminently watchable, even when you knew you should look away, there's a playfulness that redeems even the most idiotic and juvenile moments. With the infectious glimpses behind the scenes that Jackass always offered relegated to the end credits, part of the fun is imagining what the preparation might have been like for all of the interactions. There are naturally some bits that don't land as well as others, but Knoxville and the immensely charming Nicoll prove themselves especially adept at messing with unsuspecting people in a handful of memorable ones involving biker bars, child beauty pageants and the dangers of farting in public.
Considering that the film has clearly been designed as an assembly of sketches predicated on organized chaos, it's a minor miracle that the relationship between Irving and Billy and their time spent alone in the car with nary a mark in sight actually manages to resonate even slightly. The biggest prank of them all is to cloak this brand of absurd vulgarity under a heavy layer of sentimentality. (Paramount)