The first time I saw Jackass: The Movie, I laughed so hard that I cried through half of the film. Jackass 2 elicited a similar response. These guys were crazy with a capital "C"! I had never seen anyone so willing to zap their balls with high voltage electricity just to get a laugh. Sure, it wasn't the most tasteful way to entertain an audience, but even the snobbiest of snobs couldn't deny that it was funny. Then Jackass 3D came out, followed shortly by Jackass 3.5 and everything just started to wear thin. These guys weren't in their 20's anymore. Hell, most of them weren't even in their 30's either. It just seemed a little sad. Perhaps the Jackass crew had played out their schtick. But this past year, they got back together to make Bad Grandpa - an entire film based on the character played by Johnny Knoxville in the previous Jackass movies. The resulting film made me laugh as hard as any Jackass film and may be the best thing that Johnny Knoxville has done in his career.
Bad Grandpa is the story of Irving Zisman; an elderly fellow whose wife has just passed away when the film begins. Unlike most spouses that lose their significant others, Iriving is thrilled at this prospect because he now has a chance to sow his wild oats, i.e. go to strip clubs and flirt with anything female (whether they show interest or not). But, just as he is gearing up for his journey into debauchery, he finds out that his daughter has been sentenced to a stint in jail and needs Grandpa to drive his grandson Billy across the country to his deadbeat father. Irving is not too thrilled at this idea, but begrudgingly agrees to take on the task. The rest of the film documents this road trip and the shenanigans that ensue.
One of the things that I liked about Bad Grandpa is that the filmmakers try to do something different from the previous Jackass efforts. Sure, there are lots of pranks played on unsuspecting Americans, captured by hidden cameras. And yes, some of these pranks involve Knoxville (as Grandpa) doing awful things to his body to get a laugh (not to mention ample jokes about poop and balls). But, this time around there is actually a narrative that runs through the whole movie, tying all of these individual moments into one coherent story. It's a mixture between reality TV and traditional film narrative that works surprisingly well and is able to elicit more than the usual shock/humor that comes from watching a Jackass movie. Here, we are also given moments of tenderness, happiness, and genuine acting (something Knoxville is rarely accused of).
Johnny Knoxville has become pretty famous and easily recognizable. One of the challenges of doing a movie full of pranks is the threat of having the "victims" figure out who is pranking them before the punchline can develop. In Bad Grandpa the makeup that Knoxville wears to transform into Irving is fantastic. So fantastic that it even earned the filmmakers an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling. Besides his voice, Knoxville is completely unidentifiable when he is Irving. This makes his pranks all the more hilarious. We know how far he will go (because of the other Jackass movies) but his victims do not. I would love to see some of the outtakes that didn't make the film because I'm sure that he got punched at least once. There are several times in the film that he gets people worked up so much it seems like they are a heartbeat away from beating his ass. If they recognized Knoxville, none of this would have been possible.
Bad Grandpa is not for everyone. Many will find its humor offensive, crude, and boring. But for those of you that have enjoyed the previous Jackass films, Bad Grandpa is the next evolution in the series and by far the best one yet. And at a meager 92 minute running time, it's well worth the time investment.