Deranged "Bad Grandpa" Good For Some Major Laughs

With Johnny Knoxville and many of his “Jackass” cohorts entering their 40s, it’s been understood that their brand of slacker-friendly stunt work was nearing its expiration date. But while Knoxville’s boyishness has slowly faded into middle age, his substantial box office upside remains. Thusly, he and “Jackass” co-creator Jeff Tremaine have astutely repurposed the mockumentary format of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” and “Bruno” and comingled it with an old “Jackass” fan favorite – Knoxville in make-up as elderly man doing wildly inappropriate things. In “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” Knoxville once again suits up and wigs out, and the results are predictably amusing.

One’s mileage with “Bad Grandpa” may vary. Many of the film’s TV spots and trailers have given away some of its best gags. The sequences that have remained unspoiled are spectacularly crude, many of their targets propelling the phrase “low-hanging fruit” to new heights – a term that regrettably also applies to the title character’s oft-seen man parts. But the switch-up from loosely assembled series of stunts to loosely assembled narrative is a welcome one, allowing the film to build gradually, hitting some highs that the haphazard “Jackass” never could.

Knoxville stars – under many layers of latex – as 86 year-old Irving Zisman, bespectacled widower and generally crotchety horndog. As the film opens, Irving is informed of his wife’s passing and his borderline jubilant reaction is met with appalled silence from the unsuspecting woman sitting next to him. Whether or not any of the film’s “victims” are in on the joke is certainly up for debate, but their reactions provide the film with so much of its humor that it hardly matters.

Irving is soon informed that his daughter is in trouble with the law, meaning he’ll have to drive his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll, “The Fighter”), to his dad in North Carolina. But not before putting his wife’s corpse in the trunk. It’s a knowing tribute to Chevy Chase’s “Vacation,” one that sets the table for the bizarre road trip that follows. The duo quickly set off on their expedition of mischief and mayhem, with Billy approaching a man on the street to be his new father while Irving infiltrates ladies night at a local strip club. We get more than a “serving of Irving,” as the man himself so eloquently puts it.

Knoxville’s performance is vintage “Jackass,” as he expertly walks the line between lovable and revolting. That he isn’t forced to rely as heavily on stunts gives him some room to grow his acting chops, his interplay with unknowing cast members as sharp as ever. But it’s Nicoll who steals the film, transcending his “kids says the darndest things”-style dialogue with a natural on screen charisma. When Nicoll’s character volunteers the most awkward of personal information to strangers, it’s the perfect mix of misery and hilarity, and his rapport with Knoxville gives the film genuine heart – something that “Jackass” always lacked.

The film won’t satisfy anyone looking for meaningful storytelling, but it rarely languishes for more than a minute without a substantial gag. Long stretches of dialogue are likely to go unheard because of laughter, and the pic possesses a wickedly macabre sensibility that will appeal to younger moviegoers. For comedy fans, “Bad Grandpa” is a no-brainer. In every possible way.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: October 25, 2013
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Screenwriter: Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, Fax Bahr, Adam Small
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Georgina Kates, Spike Jonze
MPAA Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use)