Jackass meets Borat in Bad Grandpa, a road trip of staged real-world embarrassments that gives Johnny Knoxville's 80-something Irving Zisman character custody of an eight year-old grandson and watches as he introduces the boy to a range of vices. Hatching a story, however slim, to contain this batch of gross-out gags and "can he get away with this?" hidden-camera outrages is a novelty for the band of happy miscreants who've gotten so much mileage out of the Jackass franchise; it also focuses the general air of collegial numbskullery into a buddy-pic bond between Knoxville and the very well-cast Jackson Nicoll. Though the story goes slack eventually, the change-up should be well received by some fans; the lack of nonstop action, however, limits this feature's chances of rivaling the surprising success of the three full-team outings that precede it.
We meet Irving and grandson Billy in two separate waiting rooms: In a lawyer's office, unsuspecting clients go wide-eyed at Billy's revelation that his "mom's breath is so bad because she smokes so much crack"; across town, Irving is told that his wife has passed away and responds by crowing that he might finally get laid again now that she's gone.
Unfortunately for Irving's libido, his daughter shows up at his wife's funeral, informing him that he'll have to care for Billy because she's going to jail. Eager to get the "cock blocker" off his hands, the old man decides to take him cross-country to live with his deadbeat dad.
The two set off in Irving's decaying Lincoln with Grandma's corpse swaddled in the trunk (don't ask); in-car scenes of the two actors supply some conventional getting-to-know-you tissue to connect set pieces pitting them against the public. More often than not, the scenes feature Irving's genially offensive attempts to pick up ladies -- regardless of their age, race or appearance. The most extreme encounter takes him to a nightclub full of black women who've come to see male strippers; people are surprisingly tolerant of Irv until he starts joining the buff dancers, exposing the more pendulous parts of his (prosthetic) anatomy.
Some of these gags are hilarious; others offer little more than the first few beats of confusion and indignation a normal person might experience upon seeing, for instance, an eight-year-old puking up beer at a picnic table. Reaction shots are strung together to suggest that the old man's public negligence as a caretaker (and outright criminality, as in a long shoplifting scene) goes unreported to police. But of course the filmmakers were on hand to keep concerned citizens from dialing 911. "Gotcha" moments that play during credits show participants' relief after being let in on the joke, but an edgier film might have shown what happened in between set-up and relief: How often did people physically try to rescue this boy, who sometimes openly begs for their assistance?
When not asking strangers to be his new father, Nicoll offers an entertainingly deadpan acceptance of his sleazy family heritage. Knoxville keeps from running him over, letting his sidekick direct some encounters even as he seems to be ignoring or belittling him. The improvised antics don't develop the pair's chemistry with the finesse of a good buddy movie, though; as a result, the tale's let's-stay-together resolution feels pretty flimsy and contrived. Fortunately, one presumes that narrative cohesion is not the highest criterion by which fans will judge it.
Production Company: Dickhouse
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Screenwriters: Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, Jeff Tremaine
Producers: Jeff Tremaine, Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville, Derek Freda
Executive producers: Trip Taylor
Directors of photography: Lance Bangs, Dimitry Elyashkevich
Music: Sam Spiegel
Costume designer: Lindsey Kear
Editors: Seth Casriel, Matthew Probst, Matthew Kosinski
R, 91 minutes
Category: Mary Lambert