In Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Johnny Knoxville returns to his hidden camera comedy hijinks – this time dressed as 86-year old grandpa, Irving Zisma. Following the death of his wife Ellie (modeled after Catherine Keener), Irving sets out on a two-fold mission: 1) get laid and 2) deliver his 8-year old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) to his father across the country – after the boy’s mother Kimmy (Georgina Cates) is forced to serve jail time.
In traditional Jackass brand fashion, the cross-country trip puts the unlikely pair in a series of awkward (and over-the-top) situations as Irving, a self-absorbed, reckless, and horny senior, attempts to honor Ellie’s memory, balance his newfound freedom as an eligible bachelor, and successfully care for Billy until he can dump him off in North Carolina. However, as the oddball pair journeys across the USA, hitting on women, offending strangers, and wreaking havoc on local store owners, Irving begins to ponder whether or not he should actually hand Billy over to his deadbeat dad.
Unlike prior Jackass films, Bad Grandpa is peppered with a scripted storyline that tethers all of the hidden comedy beats (and penis jokes) together. Yet, the main draw of the film is still the outrageous improvised interactions with regular people on the street – unaware of Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine’s elaborate pranks. For this reason, moviegoers may be mixed on whether or not the straightforward narrative actually enhances or hinders the success of the film. Some viewers will likely find the story (which is pretty soulless and very predictable) to be a waste of runtime with no substance, wishing that more (of the far superior) hidden camera moments were included instead. Others will appreciate the added effort from Tremaine and Knoxville, who present a film that does slightly more than the Jackass standard – which jumped from one scandalous moment to the next.
Regardless of how filmgoers respond to the scripted bridge scenes, Bad Grandpa is still a Jackass movie in nearly every way imaginable – meaning that the film will, without question, satisfy fans of Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two, and Jackass 3-D. Nevertheless, the narrative material is not enough to draw-in viewers who did not enjoy prior entries in the series. As mentioned, Bad Grandpa‘s barebones storyline only adds surface level plot – without taking time to earn any of its attempts at (tongue-in-cheek) emotion.
While the relationship between Irving and Billy is little more than a formula for laughs, the characters succeed in moving the comedy formula away from staged Jackass pranks to more nuanced situations – raised by a pair of likable leading men. Awkward moments, dangerous stunts, and gross-out gags are still the priority, but certain trailers sought to present the film as a somewhat traditional character story (in the interest of pulling-in a wider viewership) and certain audience members who were expecting a more balanced mix between scripted drama and improv could feel slightly cheated by the final Bad Grandpa film.
Despite the reality that some jokes work better than others, Knoxville (with a team of Jackass alums producing) is in top-improv form as Irving. Aside from the obvious necessity of hiding the actor’s now-familiar face from the public, his geriatric routine presents plenty of room for unique hidden camera jokes. Between staged prop sequences and entirely improvised interactions with random strangers on the street, Knoxville is sharp and brash – once again putting his body in harms way for the sake of making filmgoers laugh. Some ideas get repetitive over time, especially those involving Irving’s clumsy quest for sexual gratification, but even when Knoxville is retreading familiar ground, the reactions from his unknowing victims are still priceless.
Easily the most remarkable aspect of Bad Grandpa is the inclusion of 9-year old Jackson Nicoll (Fun Size) who absolutely nails his improv and dramatic scenes – especially considering the outright crazy things that Knoxville and Tremaine asked of the young actor. Nicoll delivers in scripted moments but his interactions with concerned adults on the street provide solid payoff – oftentimes stealing the spotlight from Knoxville. It’s hard to imagine anyone, much less a pre-teen kid, being able to keep a straight face while shooting Bad Grandpa but Nicoll never shows signs of cracking – providing a hilarious new twist on otherwise straightforward Jackass comedy beats.
Of course, the supporting “cast” of victims left in the wake of Knoxville and Nicoll impart some of the biggest laughs. As Jackass and other hidden camera features have taught us, it’s impossible to predict how everyday people will react to extraordinary situations. Whether capturing anger, shock, incompetence, fear, compassion, determination, aggression, or relief, among countless others, the Jackass brand still reveals interesting (and flat out riotous) insight into modern culture – as people respond to Irving and Billy’s shenanigans.
Longterm fans of the Jackass franchise will find plenty to like in Bad Grandpa. The film successfully freshens up the format and elevates the hidden camera comedy series away from mindless stunts and eye-rolling gags to a series of diverse and laugh-out-loud setups carried out by a fun set of protagonists. That said, viewers who were hoping for a full-on overhaul of the formula with a heavy emphasis on the overarching Bad Grandpa story might be underwhelmed by the narrative through lines – which possess little substance and are nothing more than filler to keep the movie flowing from one improv scene to the next. Whether or not the story is a boon or a bane, Bad Grandpa successfully freshens the Jackass format and will, without question, keep fans of the series laughing (and cringing) the entire time.
If you’re still on the fence about Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, check out the trailer below:
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa runs 92 minutes and is Rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use. Now playing in theaters.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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