Imagine the 2006 comedy Borat. Now replace the talented comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen, with the less capable Johnny Knoxville (best known from MTV's "Jackass"). Now strip away any and all laughs. Finally, replace all of the sharply conceived social commentary and fish-out-of-water buffoonery with a series of sophomoric dick, poop and fart jokes aimed at the lowest common denominator of American society. You end up with Bad Grandpa (opening today), a movie that isn't the worst movie of the year for the sole reason that it was released during the same year as Movie 43.
As you may recall, Borat was "Candid Camera" come to the big-screen. Bad Grandpa uses this same structure, putting actors in situations with real people who, unbeknownst to them, are about to be "Punk'd." The movie features a character of Knoxville's from his TV show, "Jackass," the 80-something, perverted old man, Irving Zisman. He is tasked with escorting his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), on a road trip from one dead-beat parent to the other.
All of this "plot," of course, is meant to tie together a series of set-up situations that we find Billy and his grandpa in. Most of it deals with sexual harassment, penis jokes and flatulence. The joke is always on the real people, but at least most of the jokes in Bad Grandpa don't seem too mean-spirited.
But nearly none of them work. The "fun" starts with Irving trying to hump a vending machine, then getting his prosthetic penis stuck in the coin slot as innocent onlookers gasp and point. They move to the funeral of Irving's deceased wife, where innocents are asked to fill the seats. Irving tips over the coffin, resulting in astonishing gasps of horror from the crowd.
So instead of real interaction or any humor being derived from the actual situations, most of the comedy in Bad Grandpa is generated instead from Knoxville and Nicoll, and it's a misstep. Nicoll is a cute kid, but Knoxville is not a great man of comedy, improv or any discernible talent, unless you consider his fearlessness to inflict bodily harm on himself. Most of the film works only on the level that The Jerry Springer Show works: An exercise of "feeling better than" the numb-skulled rednecks that we see on-screen.
Most of the scenes fall flat, but it gets even worse in-between the "real" scenes when we have to spend time in the car with Billy and Irving. Some of it is cringe-worthy.
Then, lo and behold, the credits roll and the film gives us its most enjoyable segment, where they pull back the veil of the "movie" and show us the behind-the-scenes moments. It was far more enjoyable to see the reactions of the innocent people being let in on the joke than it was to see them a part of the joke.
Bad Grandpa offers nothing more than an episode of Jackass would and fewer laughs. It's an extended R-rated episode of Betty White's "Off Their Rockers." But taken in such a large dose, Irving doesn't end up coming across as a cuckoo old man, but instead as an offensive sexual predator. I wasn't offended, but when I stopped to think about it, maybe I should have been.
Run Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Georgina Cates, Spike Jonze
Directed by Jeff Tremaine (Jackass: The Movie, Jackass 3D)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time