A Lackluster Adolescent Road Trip
Walking to the theater to see Bad Grandpa was like sneaking through the swinging saloon doors to the adult section at the local video store. The tickets were purchased online and picked up at the kiosk. The guy who ripped my stub gave me a sideways glace. When the overly friendly girl at the popcorn counter asked what I was seeing, I answered with a long sigh. There’s not much pride in seeing a Jackass production.
But why not? I grew up with the skate punk antics of the Jackass crew and the thought of Bam BMX jousting or Knoxville badly bull riding puts a juvenile grin on my face. Like I said in my Jackass 3 review, the idea of a group of malcontents acting like buffoons was groundbreaking back in the day. No YouTube, no smartphones, no pre-teen copycats launching themselves off of rooftops. It was pure adolescent silliness and they pulled it off nicely.
But now it’s a decade later and the MTV shtick hasn’t worn well. While watching somebody face plant is a humor that speaks directly to our DNA, the effect diminishes with time. Eventually, your tastes mature and you grow up. After Jackass 3, I was convinced this would be the last go-round for the boys, one final salute to the days of NOFX and highflying tomfoolery. So, what do they do? Take the crew’s most marketable star, put him in his best role and pull a Borat. The result is Bad Grandpa, a solid attempt to make Jackass a more relevant that inevitably falls flat.
Johnny Knoxville reprises his famous role of Irving, a crotchety old geezer who likes women, booze and overall social misbehaving. After the death of his wife and the sudden departure of his drug addled daughter, he’s tasked with driving his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), to North Carolina to stay with his equally drugged out dad. This allows the two to get in a variety of public skirmishes and misadventures as they travel eastward.
Intended to bolster the stunt forward framework of the usual series fare, the weak-sauce story only detracts from the pure fun. Jackass has always survived on the energy the group brings to the pranks. In previous entries, it’s obvious the boys are having a grand time being dolts and the joy is infectious. By stitching the bits together with a threadbare story, the experience gets diluted. You never get the sense of random madness Jackass is known for and as a result, the film has a long emotional flatline running through it. It also doesn’t help that, aside from two moments of actual acting, Knoxville isn’t much of a thespian.
Of course, most people aren’t here for the story. They’re here to watch everyday people getting shocked out of their shoes by a potty mouthed eight year old and his doddering granddad. The stunts in Bad Grandpa run the gambit from standard penis jokes to some truly inventive physical comedy. The bright spots include a genital run in with a vending machine, a male revue gone awry and a fantastic bit involving an explosive kiddie ride. Sadly, most of the good bits are spoiled in the trailer, so if you saw any previews, there’s not much more to enjoy in the actual viewing.
In interviews, Knoxville and longtime director Jeff Tremaine mentioned the story was written as a way for the pranks to have structure. After a screening of the final result, it’s obvious the tale of a grandpa and grandson bonding through irreverence was an afterthought. While many may say I was expecting too much from a Jackass production, all I wanted at the outset was a breezy ninety minutes of reckless abandon. If you try to elevate the film with a story and characters I’m supposed to care about, you have to make it worth the trip. Sadly, Bad Grandpa fails to cement the theatrical with the visceral and as a result, flat lines as a filmgoing experience. If you need your fill of juvenile shenanigans, do a Google search for kids launching themselves into bushes or Internet pranks. Better yet, dust off those aged Jackass DVD’s and bask in the nostalgic glow of the good old days. As much as I love Knoxville and the Jackass crew, sometimes simpler is better. And a ton more fun.
Score: 5 out of 10