By Akshay Seth, Daily B-Side Editor
Published October 25, 2013
In the exact moment these words are being written, the most recent Facebook status update for “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” is a photo of Johnny Knoxville (“Jackass 3D”), in costume, playing a game of leapfrog with seven Playboy playmates at the Playboy Mansion. No, “leapfrog” isn’t code name for a sex position, though I have no doubt in my mind that the people who came up with the idea had the double entendre in sight. It’s simple, adolescent, crude and more so than anything else, idiotic.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
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But in many ways, that naughty, childish approach to humor is what has allowed the “Jackass” franchise to retain a cult audience for over a decade. Watching each installment is like being shoved back to those summer afternoons in middle school when you’d set aside time every day to go ding-dong-ditch an entire neighborhood, or establish social hierarchies hinging on who could most effectively pass gas while attempting a cartwheel (fartwheels). Those were the days, and though many of us have since grown up, it’s nice to know there are people out there still clinging to juvenility.
“Bad Grandpa” is an ode to that resilience. Albeit more tame than anything else in the Essential Jackass Canon, the film features the same “candid camera” gags on unsuspecting bystanders, just minus all the masochistic self-harm. We start with octogenarian Irving Zisman (Knoxville) receiving news that his wife (Catherine Keener, “Enough Said”) has just passed away.
Zisman takes his newfound bachelor status as a challenge — a challenge to see how many different women he can conspicuously and aggressively hit on before succumbing to senility.
Unfortunately, his daughter gets sent to prison on an unknown narcotics-related charge, and our profanity-spewing grandpa is stuck with her son, Billy, who he must drive cross-country to reunite with the father.
The mayhem begins. A series of pranks, the most memorable being shoplifting from a convenience store, guides us through the loosely strung narrative about Zisman finally showing love for Billy. And in all honesty, the scripted bits about grandpa having a miraculous change of heart and embracing his duties as Billy’s ward aren’t needed to keep the movie relevant.
They’re necessary to establish some form of structure in order to set up the pranks, but the reason you’re likely to shell out $10 and spend 90 minutes in a cinema hall is to see the look of utter horror on the face of innocent passersby as they watch Zisman groan, groan some more and shart on a wall.
The warm interactions between Billy and Zisman are thrown in between every prank to show some growth in grandpa’s personality, but become sidelined when the debauchery is being carried out. The tear-jerk payoff toward the end feels artificial at best, and goes against the grain of what “Jackass” is supposed to be: a satire of the extremes. Yes, Zisman is verbally accosting many of the women he sees with the most misogynistic, objectifying pick-up lines you’re likely ever to hear, but the intention is to turn the lens on himself — to highlight absurdity in the garishness of what he’s doing.
“Bad Grandpa” succeeds for simple reasons: It’s a funny movie that’ll likely keep people laughing without rehashing tired material we’ve already seen in previous chapters. The scrotum slapstick, pooping parodies and all that other good stuff is still there — just presented in a format that relies more heavily on reactionary humor than ever before.
It’s an interesting new step for the idiots at Dickhouse Productions, reminiscent of a certain Kazakhstani reporter no one’s ever heard of. It never quite reaches those heights, but no one can deny that it accomplishes what it set out to: make us question what we choose to laugh at.