Mark Reviews Movies

Bad Grandpa


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Greg Harris, Georgina Cates

MPAA Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:32

Release Date: 10/25/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 24, 2013

Johnny Knoxville gets made and dressed up like an 86-year-old man for Bad Grandpa. We imagine the screenplay by Knoxville, Spike Jonze, and director Jeff Tremaine is simply a series of ideas: "Bad Grandpa goes here and does something wacky, and then we cut to Bad Grandpa saying something that sets up where he's going next to do something even wackier."

The setup is that Knoxville's Irving Zisman invites people over or goes to locations where he proceeds to swear, drink lots of beer, accost people, fart, defecate, "accidentally" knock over a casket that contains the "corpse" of his dead wife, trick a pair of movers into committing what is "technically" a crime by moving the "corpse," dance at strip club, or make uncomely advances toward women of all ages. The people react with predictable confusion, disgust, and wariness and, in a few instances, surprising kindness.

What's the joke here? I thought I understood it during my first encounter with this character in Jackass Number Two, where he went around with prosthetic testicles hanging out of his shorts and letting his grandson do whatever he wanted.

Then again, now that I do some research, it appears that my actual first encounter with the character of the old man was in Jackass: The Movie, but you'll have to forgive me for forgetting that movie and trying to associate the character with a more pleasant—if still equally confounding—film. If I can forget the first time I saw the character, it's only reasonable that I neglect why I found him funny in the first place, right?

The joke, we suppose, is in the reactions and not the actual bits of guerilla theater that prompt them. There's a distinct absence of comic logic here, which means that by the time the jokes come around we're still trying to figure out at least two things: 1.) why Irving is even doing the things he does, and 2.) what possible reaction could the filmmakers be anticipating from the audience within the movie that would break up the repeated looks of shock and bewilderment.

For example, take the movie's first big gag. After learning that his wife has died, Irving leaves the hospital and walks to a nearby convenience store where he proceeds to unzip his pants, lean up against a soda machine outside the store, and put his penis in the coin slot. It gets stuck. As a prank, the resulting image of a man trying to free himself from the vise-like grip the machine has on his genitalia—complete with a (hopefully) prosthetic member that stretches to painful extremes—is certainly shocking and slightly humorous, but Knoxville and the scenarists offer no reason that the character is in that predicament in the first place.

Knoxville could get away with such random simplicity in the aforementioned movies (a series that this movie is apparently part of, given its "Jackass Presents" surtitle), which had no desire or need for structure. Here, though, there is a plot—rudimentary though it may be—and an attempt for this character to be more than an excuse for a string of stunts, gross-out gags, and practical jokes.

Irving's daughter (Georgina Cates) is about to go to prison on drug charges and need her father to take her son Billy (Jackson Nicoll) across the country to the boy's father (Greg Harris). The setup leads to the first of two scenes that are uncomfortable in the way they take advantage of the kindness of strangers. In it, Irving has requested a social worker to mediate a conversation between himself and Billy's deadbeat father. Beyond the scene itself lacking any real humor, one is left asking whether or not the woman, who's incredibly patient and understanding about the phony situation put in front of her, has been taken away from doing something good for real people instead of being used as a prop in a go-nowhere joke.

The other scene, much later in the movie, has the filmmakers setting up a domestic dispute at a bar where a motorcycle club has scheduled a get-together. By the way, the mission of the motorcycle club is to help and protect abused children. The only redeeming factor of these wrongheaded, strained scenarios is that we know the unknowing participants at least had the good humor to agree to have their faces shown in the movie after learning what was really happening (A few others, understandably, did not).

Parts of Bad Grandpa are amusing, especially the movie's final scene at a beauty pageant for young girls that actually engages in something approaching satire. Whatever the joke is, though, it gets stale and tiresome rather quickly.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik.  All rights reserved. 

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