Film review: BAD GRANDPA, from Built For Speed

Bad Grandpa is the latest prank-fest from those renowned purveyors of low-brow cinema, Jackass.  These guys having been putting their testicle-smashing, flesh-burning, skull-cracking stunts on film for over a decade but what may have once been shocking and edgy is now becoming familiar and predictable.  Perhaps aware of this, the group’s Johnny Knoxville has with Bad Grandpa, attempted to transplant typical Jackass pranks into a partially scripted storyline but this approach does little to enliven their brand of comedy.

Knoxville, in fairly convincing old man make-up, plays sexually depraved 86-year-old Irving Zisman aka Bad Grandpa.  Recently and quite happily widowed, the eponymous octogenarian agrees to chaperone his strange and offensive eight year old grandson Billy (Jackson Nichol) to the child’s scumbag father’s place after the kid’s Mother is imprisoned for drug offences.  The film transforms into a road movie with Irving and Billy harassing and insulting the general public and destroying property across America.  In other words it’s just like Borat but without the clever cultural satire or the endearing central character.  The film is disappointingly devoid of wit – which is necessary in the longer narrative format as opposed to the pure prank format of earlier Jackass films – and the crass, simplistic humour becomes tiresome.

Bad Grandpa mostly opts for fart, poo, erection and testicle mangling gags and the unwholesome spectacle of grandpa sleazing onto women while young Billy bugles down grog and at one point pole dances to the now clichéd signifier of white American trashiness, Warrant’s “Cherry Pie”.  Some of the gags are amusing in their outrageous flouting of public decency but all of this was done better in Borat.

Surprisingly, though, the film provides some perversely fascinating Milgram-like insights into human psychology as so many bystanders are willing to comply with Irving’s extremely anti-social and potentially illegal behaviour.   Also, the film has some genuinely sentimental moments as Grandpa bonds with young Billy and recoils at the disgusting attitude of Billy’s white trash dad.  In nearly every instance though, the sentiment is quickly obliterated by an incontinence gag.

To the filmmakers credit Bad Grandpa, like the other Jackass movies, features an impressive soundtrack including, amazingly, a terrific rare Bob Dylan song “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”.

No one was expecting Johnny Knoxville to deliver a virtuoso acting display here and although he mostly shouts, cackles, abuses people and acts crazy, he manages to convince a lot of people that he is an oversexed old man.  He also pulls off some brave stunts and seems prepared to risk savage beatings in the name of juvenile entertainment.  In a role that will disturb parents and social workers alike, young Jackson Nichol shows a similar fearlessness to Knoxville as he confronts random adults in the street, at one point asking a stranger to be his new dad.

Bad Grandpa is by no means an abomination but despite a few laugh-out-loud moments, its comedy is mostly obvious and uninspired.  Those who love the Jackass style of humour will probably defend this film to the death but it won’t convert non-believers.

Nick’s rating: Two stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Jeff Tremaine.

Release date: 14th Nov 2013.

Running time:  92 mins.

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