Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa tells compelling stories

For the sake of consistency with the “Jackass” franchise, “Bad Grandpa” does include all of the genital, flatulence and excrement jokes that the audience expects from this group of actors. But what sets this installment apart from the rest is that it actually tells a story.

After his daughter is arrested for drug related charges (again), Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) takes his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) from Nebraska to live with his father in North Carolina. As with most “road trip” movies, Irving and Billy encounter a series of adventures and obstacles along the way.

Unlike most other road trip movies, however, their mishaps are actually cleverly disguised pranks designed to capture a genuine reaction from the people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. What makes this work particularly well, is Knoxville and Nicoll’s ability to improvise with the unsuspecting prank victims. The two lead actors’ ability to spontaneously interact with the people who are not in on the joke is only trumped by their ability to keep the story moving forward. Knoxville, in particular, displays a seemingly natural ability to mess with the crowd, while in character, and not get too bogged down in the joke so as to keep the scene from moving forward. Knoxville really deserves a lot of credit for this feat because unlike a film that is entirely scripted, there are no opportunities for second takes. He has to make sure to get the scene right the first time, because the people he’s interacting with have no idea that he’s an actor or that they are being filmed.

Poster Photo
Poster Photo

In addition to the hilarious pranks, there are a multitude of scenes with just Irving and Billy. These scenes are just as hilarious as the prank scenes, if not more. The writers weaved a relationship between the two characters that, heretofore, didn’t exist. It’s these scenes that really make the movie as good as it is. By exploring the complexity of a relationship between a grandfather and grandson in close quarters, getting to know each other for the first time and doing so in a genuinely realistic way, the filmmakers are able to discover authentic, true to life comedy rather than manufactured “bits” that rely almost entirely on sight gags and schtick. In the climax, when Billy is turned over to his father, the organic growth of the relationship between Irving and Billy is so great that Irving’s goodbye is simultaneously hilarious and heart-warming. One third of the audience cried from laughing, another third cried from the heart-felt sentiment and the remaining third cried from both.

While most people wouldn’t consider a Jackass movie a true character study, let alone a work of art, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” is giving film critics something to think about.

Rating: R
Running time: 93 mins.
Grade: B+
Verdict: “Bad Grandpa” is a surprisingly good movie. It has the classic jackassery one would ex- pect, but it also has heart and an extremely cool mix of “reality” and narrative story-telling styles.