Cast: Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll
Written By: Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze and Jeff Tremaine
Directed By: Jeff Tremaine
Heavily inspired by Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno, but with it’s own “jackassy” twist, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a very funny sketch/hidden camera movie in which an outrageous caricature of a man is let loose on an unsuspecting public. Here the man is 86-year-old Irving Zisman, a hard drinking, perverted, ill-mannered and inappropriate senior citizen. The jackass of all jackasses, Johnny Knoxville, plays Zisman wearing convincing old-age prosthetics so as to not be recognized by the communities he terrorizes. And also because it’s funnier to watch a geriatric man behaving badly than it is a 30-something, which is one of the reasons why this Jackass spin-off has managed to breathe new life into a waning franchise.
Unlike the previous Jackass films which were a collection of random stunts and sketches, the filmmaker’s have wisely incorporated a scripted narrative into the proceedings; with the hidden camera hijinks serving to further the storyline. That’s not to say that their approach works so smoothly, as inherently the film is a collection of random comedic set pieces with the surrounding plot only loosely connected by the pranks. As the story goes, Irving Zisman journeys across America with his 8 year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) in order to drop him off to live with his deadbeat father. Along the way, Irving will introduce Billy to places and situations that no impressionable young child should be witness to. As the old man and young boy wreak havoc in their travels, Irving might just grow fond of the grandson he at first considered to be a “c*ckblock”.
The “script” was written by Knoxville, director Jeff Tremaine, and producer Spike Jonze. Jonze, the director of higher brow fare such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, is mostly likely the one responsible for adding some ingenuity into the production. The ideas and situations they come up with range from the mischievous to the outrageous and like any sketch-comedy, it’s a hit and miss affair. Luckily, most of them hit. There’s not a single situation that flat out flops as even amongst the less inspired gags there are chuckles to be had, while the more shocking moments reach gut-busting levels of hilarity. Wether or not these gags work is highly dependent on the reactions of the public involved. Speaking to that, just how much of this is “real”? Well, as a skeptic to such entertainment I must admit that almost all of the people who are privy to Zisman’s behavior have a genuinely horrified reaction and under the guise of being a grandpa caring for his grandson, Knoxville is able to reel in otherwise unwilling participants. In fact, a closing credits montage shows the filmmakers revealing themselves to the victims by proclaiming, “That’s Johnny Knoxville, we’re filming a movie and you’re in it!”
The various scenarios and the ways in which they play out are best kept a surprise as half the fun is cringing in anticipation of the embarrassment that’s about to unfold. However, a few must be mentioned. The most lascivious scene takes place at a strip club featuring black male dancers. Zisman unknowingly walks into the joint, gets drunk, then revels in the debauchery by unclothing and joining the other naked men on the catwalk. I couldn’t possibly describe where it goes from there without blushing, but let’s just say that Knoxville’s old age mask is not the only prosthetic device he ‘utilizes’ in the movie. But the filmmaker’s weren’t satisfied with merely an old man disrobing, they needed to let the 8 year-old boy in on the action as well. Zisman enrolls Billy in a girls’ beauty pageant to rake in some extra bucks. Billy gets dressed in drag in order to participate and what follows is an innocent dance routine that turns into a full fledged erotic bump and grind, with Zisman cheering on his little “girl”. A joke taken right out of Little Miss Sunshine? Perhaps. Only, this is a raunchier version done in front of real families who aren’t in on the joke, so take that Little Miss Sunshine and your well-crafted screenplay!
8 year-old Jackson Nicoll appears to get the joke and is game in terrorizing the public alongside Knoxville, although throughout the film it’s often noticeable that Nicoll is wearing an earpiece. You can’t help but imagine a group of writers sitting in a room somewhere cackling as they play ventriloquist, coming up with shocking things to come out of their 8 year-old puppets’ mouth. Amidst all this debauchery, there’s actually a sort of sweetness to this movie as grandpa and grandson begin to bond throughout their misadventures. This bonding consists of shoplifting, a flatulence competition in a diner full of patrons, and getting hammered together. Sure, the grandfather/grandson sentiment is somewhat forced and accounts for most of the scripted portions of the film, but the attempt at levity is appreciated. At least these jackasses have a heart.
Like Borat and Bruno before it, Bad Grandpa is a road trip movie in which our “hero” visits various states, messing with people to provoke a reaction. Only, Johnny Knoxville’s more of a poor man’s Sacha Baron Cohen as Knoxville’s riff on a similar idea doesn’t have the same kind of biting social commentary on American culture. Borat and Bruno showed how an intolerant and ignorant American would react to what they believed was a stereotypical foreigner and homosexual, respectively. Here, Zisman is the intolerant and ignorant American and his victims reactions are completely justified. In that sense, Knoxville took Cohen’s formula but not his ambitions. Having said that, to look at it that way is simply splitting hairs, as when a movie is this funny it hardly matters what it’s satirical intentions are.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is crude, outrageous, and consistently funny. In a testament to the “writing”, a lot of these gags would be genuinely funny had they occurred in a completely scripted format. But the fact that this is all actually happening to an outraged public elevates the comedy to another level of enjoyment. You’ll be laughing out loud, even if you feel like a jackass for doing so.