I’ve never been a fan of “Jackass” – I’d always dismissed it as a puerile, contrived, needlessly manufactured version of “You’ve Been Framed!” but without the whimsical Harry Hill commentary. The trailer for “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”, however, made me laugh enough that I thought I’d better check it out.
Not quite abandoning the trademark injurious and gross-out stunts of old, this time they’re framed by a loose narrative: following his daughter’s return to prison, a recently widowed grandfather has to embark on a cross-country road trip to hand his grandson over to his deadbeat dad. Along the way, they encounter and interact with a wide variety of real people.
Of course, the obvious benchmark here is Sacha Baron Cohen’s work and tonally, this is closer to the wide-eyed bumbling slyness of “Borat” than the mean-spirited and over provocative “Brüno”. However, where Cohen uses his characters oddities to provoke specific targets into revealing their hypocrisy and prejudices, “Bad Grandpa” prefers the more easy-going route of featuring decent, normal people confronted by the bizarre, baffling and confounding behaviour of a sweet little boy and his suspiciously spry granddad. I’m going to keep this brief because there’s a lot to enjoy in this film and while the trailer hasn’t given away all the goodies, to even hint at what’s left might tip the balance.
Jonny Knoxville gives what can only be described as a ballsy performance as 86-year old Irving Zisman. He is completely unrecognisable and it’s uncanny how quickly you forget that you’re not watching an old man but a surprisingly talented 42 year old actor. The other surprise is the performance of Jackson Nicoll as Billy, who not only matches Knoxville for laughs and screen presence but proved surprisingly adept at pulling his own solo pranks. The pair have superb on screen chemistry and supported by a script which has the fingerprints of co-writer Spike Jonze, some of the most affecting moments are not in the stunts or sketches but in the quieter moments between the two actors. There are even a couple of outtakes between the pair of them that make it into the movie proper because they work as moments of genuine amusement and affection.
It’s not going to win any Oscars (although if there was any justice, Knoxville would be in with a shout of getting a nomination), but it is a 90 minute slice of crazy high-jinks and sometimes shocking but always laugh-out-loud comedy with a genuinely sweet central core. He may be a bad grandpa, but it makes for a great movie. Oh, and stay for the end credits!