You might be inclined to give Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa points for originality, if nothing else. The spinoff from the successful (and admittedly hilarious) Jackass franchise is not a documentary of stunts and pranks, as its predecessors were; more accurately, it’s a narrative film in which only the lead performers are knowing participants.
The 400-Word Review - Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
By Sean Collier
October 28, 2013
A full narrative runs from the beginning to the end of Bad Grandpa; the actors don’t break character, and no one crosses over the fourth wall until the inevitable gag reel runs. At least 30% of the runtime focuses in on the actors only, with no prank victims in sight. So you might ask yourself — has there ever been anything quite like this before?
Then you’ll think, “Oh yeah. Borat.”
So without novelty, Bad Grandpa must sink or swim on the strength of its laughs and the sustainability of its premise. Johnny Knoxville plays the titular octogenarian, Irving Zisman; the character has appeared in previous Jackass films as a clumsy, raunchy and incontinent wellspring of shocked passerby reaction.
In Bad Grandpa, he’s tasked with delivering his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll, apparently cast more due to a lack of parental oversight than any discernible talent) cross-country to his father after his mother goes (back) to jail.
That structure, of course, is just an excuse for the pranks. Irving and Billy attempt to rob a convenience store, planning to use Irving’s senility as an out; Irving ditches Billy and wanders into a low-rent strip club only to discover that it’s Ladies Night; Billy ditches Irving and begs random strangers to be his new father. The premises escalate, some involving elaborate contraptions intended to give Bad Grandpa the degree of physical calamity required by the Jackass brand.
Most of the attempts at humor are, well, hilarious. Nearly every premise will induce groans during the set-up but roars by the conclusion. (The climactic prank is especially pointed, if lifted from a well-known recent comedy.)
Unfortunately, the frame story is ill-advised, dull and confusing. Jackass begs us to be in on the joke; the joy of watching the shocked reactions is in knowing that it’s a stunt. If that’s the premise, why would we care about the 30-or-so minutes when Bad Grandpa plays it straight? Maybe if the story were stronger (or funnier) it would work, but it’s not. You’ll never laugh harder at a movie that’s not actually any good.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark