Movie Review: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll
Plot: 86 year old Irving Zisman drives his 8 year old grandson, Billy, from Nebraska to North Carolina, where his son-in-law (the boy’s father) lives.
In 2000, Jackass debuted on MTV and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. It originated as some stunt videos starring Johnny Knoxville produced by a skateboarding magazine that was eventually married with the “CKY” videos that amateur skateboarder Bam Margera and his buddies were making. They made 3 seasons in 2 years spawning a number of spinoff tv series, 3 movies, extended DVDs, and this spinoff that is a much different direction than the others.
The key to the jackasses ability to get laughs is how well they could surprise people and get genuine reactions from the innocent spectators duped into thinking it was real. But if you become a cultural phenomenon, it is hard to keep anonymity, especially for Johnny Knoxville, the commander and chief of the whole gang, who became too recognizable to keep pulling pranks Thus Irving Zisman.
Zisman was the product of necessity. He was a combination of heavy make-up and a slow, senile performance from Knoxville that takes everyone off guard. This is a slightly different flick from the rest of them though. It is no longer just a series of candid vignettes, but like the work of Sacha Baron Cohen before it, it tried to include an overall narrative to connect the vignettes. This arc centered round Zisman’s struggle with his newly single life after the death of his wife as he takes his grandson, Billy, to his father’s place in North Carolina.
This narrative is surprisingly heartwarming. It is completely dependent on Knoxville’s chemistry with the young actor playing Billy, Jackson Nicoll. Nicoll is just as candid and clever as Knoxville. He gives 110% effort in duping people. His best parts though are when there are no victims. When he and Knoxville are just riffing together in a motel room or in the car, you can see where the scripted scene ends and the improv begins. Normally, I would say that is a negative, but it makes their relationship that much stronger. Sometimes you can even tell that Nicoll surprises Knoxville and gets a genuine chuckle out of him.
Meanwhile, the pranks are in full force. They are as rude and crude as you would expect from this gang, from a disgusting prosthetic scrotum to a fake dead wife they keep in the trunk. The reactions this time around are exponentially better because the pranks are even more unexpected from a young boy and an old man travelling together. Knoxville, who has perfected the pratfall, uts his 80+ year old Zisman character into the kind of physical trauma that should kill him.
Jackass is crude, out the top, and completely juvenile, and for that, many people want to write them off as the maturity stunted idiots that they are. But they are also unapologetic, which is why we love them. Funny is funny, and the Jackass gang knows that better than anyone else.