Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013)
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Greg Harris
Synopsis: 86-year-old Irving Zisman takes a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to take his 8 year-old grandson, Billy, back to his real father.
Man, I must be getting old, I thought as I watched Bad Grandpa, the latest offering from those buffoons at Jackass. The humour seemed so puerile, so mean-spirited, so… unfunny, that I just had to be out of touch, right? But then it slowly dawned on me that I wouldn’t have found this kind of stuff funny even when I was a teenager, and that it wasn’t me who’d changed so much, but society in general. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s a movie like Bad Grandpa simply wouldn’t have found financing, let alone an audience, and Johnny Knoxville and his mates would probably have been stacking shelves at Wal-Mart when they weren’t setting fire to their farts in the warehouse. And yet Bad Grandpa took $100,000,000 at the US box office alone which means there are plenty of people out there prepared to part with their hard-earned in order to sit through a mostly unpleasant so-called comedy that relies for its laughs as much upon the shocked reactions of its victims as it does upon any humour inherent in the situations it creates.
Knoxville plays Irving Zisman, a reprehensible old man whose joy upon learning of the death of his wife of 40 years (“Did you here that, Leroy?” he asks his penis, “we’re free!”) is quickly tempered by the arrival of his eight-year-old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll) who is foisted upon him by his crack-addicted daughter (Georgina Cates) after she learns she is on her way to prison for drug-dealing. Billy’s slob of a father (Greg Harris) agrees to take the boy in only after learning that he will receive $600 in child benefit each month, but he lives in North Carolina, while Irving is in Nebraska, which means Irving must travel across country to drop the boy off before he can get back to hustling women for sexual favours.
Bad Grandpa is essentially a series of pranks played on an unsuspecting American public. Knoxville chose his victims well, targeting small towns in the American heartland, where the populace are not, shall we say, quite as self-conscious about their body image as those who live in wealthier parts of the United States. A disproportionate number of them are morbidly obese because — you know what? — we nearly all have an innate sense of superiority over those who struggle with their weight, so we don’t feel so bad about laughing at their discomfort when they suddenly find themselves in awkward and/or distressing situations. And some of those situations Knoxville and Bad Grandpa’s team of writers concoct make for extremely unpleasant viewing, most of which involve the corpse of Irving’s wife who is stuffed in the boot of his monster of a car.
Filmed pranks go back to the days of the classic TV series Candid Camera, and Sacha Baron Cohen covered the same ground as Knoxville does here seven years ago in Borat, but he targeted the country’s racists and bigots, who presumably account for a small percentage of the American population, and his stunts were genuinely funny and groundbreaking. Knoxville, however, doesn’t care who he exploits and seems to target the kindness and helpful nature of passers-by who will pose no threat to him. His humour is largely one of revulsion designed to appeal to those who find great amusement in the misfortune of others, the kind of people who will film the outcome of a car crash on their mobiles rather than use that phone to call for help, the kind who don’t care about the welfare of anyone else as long as their self-gratification continues uninterrupted.