While the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a great source for definitions of many words, its entry for “jackass” leaves much to be desired. “A stupid person” does not even begin to encompass the full meaning of being a “jackass.” It seriously underrepresents the brash, annoying, and excessive nature of jackasses everywhere. There is also a lack of appreciation for the incredible comedic potential of the term. As MTV can attest, the act of being a jackass and the shocked and sometimes horrified reactions it can elicit are comedic gold.
Really, to get a full scope of the meaning of the word “jackass,” its entry in the dictionary should be replaced with a picture of Johnny Knoxville with the caption “Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville. Welcome to ‘Jackass!’”
With three movies and a TV show under the “Jackass” label, including a foray into the third dimension, Knoxville and his fellow cast members have made an incredibly thorough contribution to our understanding of what being a jackass entails. Indeed, when a fourth movie was first rumored to be in the works, there was widespread speculation on whether the word really needed further defining. One would think that there is some kind of mathematical law for the diminishing hilarity of watching somebody performing incredibly ridiculous, dangerous, and oftentimes disgusting stunts.
However, despite its association with the “Jackass” franchise, and the presence of Johnny Knoxville starring as 83-year-old Irving Zisman, “Bad Grandpa” somehow manages to take a tired old concept and produce something thoroughly entertaining.
It all begins with the introduction of a wholly novel concept called a plot. Irving Zisman, newly freed from the shackles of marriage, is forced into embarking on a road trip across America with an unlikely companion, his 8-year-old grandson Billy. While predictable, the loose narrative framework provides just the right amount of context to piece together the short comedy skits that essentially makes up the movie. Due to the lightness of its storyline, “Bad Grandpa” clearly shows that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This atmosphere helps the audience gloss over the utter ridiculousness of many of the scenarios presented and concentrate instead on the better points of the film.
Such a bright spot was the youthful face of Jackson Nicoll, who stars alongside Knoxville as his adorably rounded grandson. At 9 years old, Nicoll shows excellent timing and poise in delivering witty one-liners. His unabashed smile and laughter really light up the screen. In fact, many of the biggest laughs of the film were elicited not by Knoxville, but by Nicoll. That said, the truly standout aspect of “Bad Grandpa” was the on-screen chemistry that gradually developed between Knoxville and Nicoll throughout the course of the movie. Somehow, even with a paper-thin plot, “Bad Grandpa” manages to develop an emotional connection between viewers and these two characters just by the virtue of their chemistry together.
Nevertheless, despite drawing continual laughter from the audience, “Bad Grandpa” has considerable flaws in its writing. For one, there is an inexplicably heavy reliance on fart and poop jokes for cheap laughter. At these moments, it begins to seem like the writers really strained to come up with adequate material for the film. On a similar note, true fans of the disgusting, often repulsive humor that has long been the hallmark of “Jackass” will be sorely disappointed by the mild nature of “Bad Grandpa.” There are a few moments that push the envelope, but in general, very little of the action is truly shocking or stomach-turning.
On a more technical level, director Jeff Tremaine’s dedication to hidden-camera shots for capturing “real” reactions from shocked onlookers, albeit admirable, sometimes caused incredibly awkward cuts between shots of varying video quality. While not generally particularly distracting, for a few scenes, an excessive amount of these cuts really took away from the situation at hand and was mildly disconcerting.
With all this in consideration, “Bad Grandpa” is still definitely a very worthwhile addition to the “Jackass” franchise. As a sum of its parts, the film can even be classified as a good comedy. Strong performances by Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll make up for a slightly uninspired script. Of course, the same caveats apply for this film as for a traditional “Jackass” film. Do not expect the film to be classy or sensitive. Expect it to be crass and blunt. Expect to have to temporarily suspend disbelief. As long as the movie is not taken any more seriously than it should be, “Bad Grandpa” is a fun, light movie that is sure to elicit more than a few laugh-out-loud moments.
The Verdict: Light in tone and high in spirit, “Bad Grandpa” is a surprisingly good comedy that deviates from the usual “Jackass” formula.
Reach contributing writer Kevin Kwong at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DKdonkeykwong
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