The same thing, just different and better
Knoxville brings refreshing plotline to same old 'Jackass' in 'Bad Grandpa'
Despite one of the fraternity houses at our university “allegedly” (it totally happened) slipping X into an unaware Johnny Knoxville’s beer while he was shooting a promo for his new film “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” the UA was still allowed an advanced screening of the film in Gallagher Theater. Go figure.
I, for one, am glad to see that we’re giving That School Up in Tempe a run for its money in terms of being nationally recognized as an academic institution of the highest order, that scoffs at the notion of any funny business … but I digress.
More to the point, “Bad Grandpa” introduces enough new elements to make the “Jackass” franchise fresh and modern again.
Unlike previous iterations of “Jackass” — which were post-modern mash-ups of random skits without a plot to really hold them together — “Bad Grandpa” introduces what could be considered a storyline. Although inserting a plot may seem counterintuitive (because anyone who watches “Jackass” clearly wants to completely turn off their brain), it actually adds instead of detracts.
Irving Zisman (Knoxville), a lecherous old man still trying to get his rocks off at the ripe old age of 86, has been tasked with transporting his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) across the country to his deadbeat father while his crack-addled mother begins her stint in the clink. It’s a loose narrative, to say the least, but it works — and it works well.
Over the phone last month, Knoxville said that he really thought people would take to the relationship between the grandpa and grandson, and his prediction was right on the money. The unlikely pairing of an ancient creeper and a not-so-innocent young boy is what puts this latest installment head and shoulders above the other “Jackass” movies. Seeing an old man corrupt his young grandson is a welcome change from the usual formula, and the pranks put this dynamic to great use.
The previous “Jackass” movies basically involved grown men beating the shit out of one another in ways as creative as possible, hoping to later puke all over each other. There were some minor variations thrown in for flavor, like drinking horse semen, but that was pretty much the gist.
“Bad Grandpa” has Irving sharing a beer with 8-year-old Billy on a park bench and getting wildly drunk while playing Bingo, and Billy dressing in drag to enter a children’s beauty pageant. Some stunts still rely on the “Oh, look, here’s a random penis” gimmick of the older movies, but there’s something about older people behaving inappropriately that is just plain funny.
Knoxville, director Jeff Tremaine and crew shot “Bad Grandpa” almost completely out in public, and the real reactions of the innocent bystanders garner as many laughs as the stunts themselves. Just as funny as Irving putting the corpse of his dead wife in the trunk is the reaction of the man helping him move the body, who is convinced that they’re committing a crime.
Major kudos go to Nicoll and his portrayal of Billy as well. The kid seems down to do just about anything that’s asked of him, and the relationship between him and Knoxville can, at times, even be a little tender. It’s not exactly heartwarming, but it’s closer than “Jackass” has ever gotten before.
The franchise seemed like it had reached the end of the line with the same random stunts performed by the same people. “Bad Grandpa” switches up the stunts, actors and filming style, all to great benefit.
And even though Knoxville’s days of tripping on ecstasy have been over for quite some time (I mean, as long as we don’t have anything to say about it), he seems to be doing his best work yet.
Follow Alex Guyton @TDWildcatFilm