Johnny Knoxville once again dons his old mask and lewd attitude of the obnoxious and oddly charming Irving Zisman in 2013’s Bad Grandpa. This is another one I’ve wanted to see for a while and was pretty thrilled when I saw it was coming to Netflix. I’ve always been a big fan of Jackass and the subsequent films and, for the most part, Bad Grandpa didn’t disappoint.
While mostly just a vehicle to connect Jackass-style sketches, the plot of the film revolves around Irving reluctantly taking his grandson, Billy, after the child’s mother no longer wants to take care of him. Not wanting to deal with the foul-mouthed eight-year-old and failing an attempt to snail mail him to North Carolina, Irving must drive Billy to his father in hopes that he’ll take the child off his hands. Not a very original or even engaging plot, but when you consider that they had to continually try and build and move along a coherent story through skits, it’s actually kind of impressive. It doesn’t always work, and the scenes that were pure story and not in-public skits were almost all unfunny, but when the beats do hit they hit hard.
The first half of the film is a real hit or miss as far as these sketches are concerned. A lot of them feel like ripoffs of those annoying popular YouTube prank videos which, oddly enough, are mostly ripping off Jackass. It’s like the circle of life for annoying unoriginal ideas. Quite a few in the first act fell completely flat, where Knoxville would be really trying to draw a reaction out of the prank victims but essentially nothing happens – maybe an odd look here or there but that’s about it. It becomes clear that these dead scenes were left in just to move the story along and it really dragged down the film for the first twenty or so minutes. On top of that, the sketches that were particularly lewd and Jackass-like really miss something when they’re shot with a professional camera crew and thematic angles. Seeing those sketches through the eyes of a low-quality shaky cam and randomly placed cameras really makes you feel like you’re in on the sketch. As they were in Bad Grandpa they just felt awkward to watch, and not in the way the film intended.
Where the character of Irving succeeds is when Knoxville plays him as a bumbling old man as opposed to purposefully being in people’s faces and lewd. The first sketch in particular where he did this was the skit that had him in a shopping cart going up to a fast food drive-in. Sure, that premise wasn’t all that original, but the way Knoxville played it wasn’t overly rude and the employee’s reactions were sweet and funny. There are a couple more like this, such as the bingo scene and the bit in the strip club to a certain extent, and they’re all great.
Everything in the film’s 90-minute run times seems to build to the last two scenes and they certainly pay off. They’re set up well and are the perfect blend of being awkward for participants and funny for the viewer at the same time. If you’ve seen trailers and heard anything about Bad Grandpa you clearly know what that last scene is and I’m happy to say it’s even better than you probably imagined. Even the second-to-last scene, which features the crew pranking a group of bikers, fit naturally with the rest of the story and payed off well.
Considering how difficult this kind of comedy is even for an adult, Jackson Nicoll did a great job playing the eight-year-old Billy. Most kids can barely speak in public at age ten but here’s Nicoll asking a random woman if her stripper name is Cinnamon or translating his Grandpa’s awkward hand motions into lewd insults. It’s not like an entire bit could be re-shot if he screwed up, so he obviously stayed in character during their entire duration. Pretty impressive.
Nothing to really do with the quality of the film, but I appreciate that it included the shots of the producers informing the public that what they just witnessed was part of a movie. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing people’s sense of relief and confusion when they realize it was all fake is one of the best parts of hidden camera shows.
I’m going to be honest, after the first few sketches I had a very solid outline and title prepared for my review of Bad Grandpa. It felt like nothing more than Jackass dressed up with fancier cameras and boring sketches but, in the end, it turned into a downright charming story of a grandfather and grandson with some genuinely hilarious sketches moving the story along. Despite some dead zones and unfunny bits, there were enough quality jokes and an oddly heartwarming story buried in there to warrant a recommendation for just about everyone that can handle naughty language and adult content.