29 October 2013


Warning: this is definitely a review. Whatever you and your dumb little buddies thought of Bad Grandpa, the latest film from the Jackass crew, it doesn't have a story, and yet it somehow dispenses with the critic-proof fence that the other Jackass movies had (but didn't actually need.)

The Dickhouse Productions troupe's first foray into narrative cinema is based around Johnny Knoxville's pervy old bloke character, 86-year-old Irving Zisman. Recently bereft of his wife, Irving is typically eager to get back in the saddle and find himself a new lady. However, when his estranged daughter gets a jail sentence, he's charged with delivering his 8-year-old grandson, Billy, across country to his dickhead father's custody.

For as uncomplicated as it outwardly seems to be, the experience of watching Bad Grandpa is laden down with weird paradoxes. It's the most story-led film that has come from the Jackass brand, but the story seems so nominal, it actually makes the film look even more episodic and sketchy than the previous films, which were essentially unconnected series of skits. Trading on the format that made Borat a hit, this one is almost exclusively made up of candid camera stunts, which were only one part of the other movies.

The entire film hinges upon the lead actor convincing people that he's an octogenarian, and yet whenever the film goes into story mode, we get another contradiction in terms. Johnny Knoxville is a fucking terrible actor. Granted, he convinces strangers when he's pretending to be Irving, but anyone who remembers his sterling scripted work in such classics as The Dukes Of Hazzard, Men In Black II and Movie 43 will remember that he'd actually be in more danger if someone put a gun to his head to make him give a decent line reading, than if he stabbed himself in the dick and jumped into a pool full of sharks.

The hidden camera part actually brings a lot of laughs, but they only serve to weaken the road movie narrative further. I would never normally criticise a comedy purely because the best parts were in the trailer, because that seems to be the norm these days. But by including the final scene (itself a riff on the finale of Little Miss Sunshine) in the trailer, we've been shown that this stunt works just as well in isolation. While Jackass 3D was an ambitious and inventive assembly, which made the big screen experience of their dickery feel essential, (yes, really) this is a sequence of sporadically funny bits that would have worked just as well if they were released on Funny Or Die over the course of several weeks, without the pesky story bits in between.

The now-traditional behind the scenes footage during the credits only serves to cement the candid camera aspect, but the film's parting shot is a sombre one- a dedication to the late Ryan Dunn, whose untimely death in a drink-driving accident in 2011 would seem to have put a crimp on more Jackass outings. It serves to remind us that while the previous movie was so much funnier for showing how these idiotholes have gotten older, and clearly have to physically ignore their instincts in order to take part in dangerous stunts, have understandably been sobered even more since then. By keeping Knoxville in character throughout, Irving Zisman becomes steadily less and less amusing.

To close on a positive note, Bad Grandpa does have one major new trick up its sleeve- the discovery of Jackson Nicoll, who plays Billy. This kid fares much better in his Borat-esque scenes with real people; he quickly and repeatedly proves himself to be a fearless comic performer, with a fantastic sense of timing, and I hope he does well in the future. I also have to admit that I laughed more than a few times, but it becomes repetitive all too quickly, especially when, (though I hate to say it) the best jokes are in the trailer.

Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Bad Grandpa, why not share your comments below? If this all sounds stuffy, go back and read that Jackass 3D review I linked to earlier- that was amongst my top 25 favourite films of its year, and I was sorely disappointed in this one.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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