Johnny Knoxville has taken the Jackass brand and left the rest of the gang behind, kind of like Justin Timberlake dumping the dudes from ‘N Sync (OK, it’s more like Mike Love taking over The Beach Boys brand, but none of you are old enough to get that reference). While in the same spirit as Jackass, Knoxville and his fellow producers have tried to add a story to this one. They would have been better off just riding grocery carts down the hills of San Francisco.
In this scripted film shot to make us think it is more of a Punk’d-style hidden camera show, Knoxville stars as Irving Zisman – an 80-or-so-year old man forced to take his 8-year old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), across country to his father. Of course, along the way, they are involved in antics galore that shock those around them.
Say what you want about the juvenile antics of the Jackass crew and Knoxville, but their last movie set a then fall release record with a $50 million opening weekend, so there are plenty of people still laughing at their childish, ridiculous, sometimes hilarious behavior, which is why we get Bad Grandpa. However, this is a different kind of project.
The supposed selling point of the movie is that we allegedly are watching Knoxville and Nicoll hoax the world with outrageous and shocking behavior, but it’s hard to buy the premise. Director Jeff Tremaine is getting camera angles and reaction shots that just couldn’t come together by serendipity, and some of this behavior would get someone arrested, or beaten to a pulp.
It’s all too good to be true, so the joke is not on the people in the movie. It’s on the people who bought the tickets. Maybe they want to believe they are smarter than the people in the film who are supposed to be getting the shock of their lives, but the real shock would be how much of this completely is staged and how many of those “real” people are actors getting paid a nice wage for the day to pretend they are being pranked.
Ultimately, the attempts to make believe this is some grand joke on society covers for the weak story. Tremaine doesn’t give Bad Grandpa any direction. Knoxville and Nicoll are left to go from stunt to stunt without much tying it together and no ultimate goal. Frankly, the whole story about taking the kid across country doesn’t matter, and the lame attempt to appeal to our heartstrings should have been played more as a satire of such movie moments.
Luckily, Nicoll is the funniest part of the movie. His innocence and delivery are spot on, even with the most obvious of jokes.
Bad Grandpa is rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use.