Tuesday, October 29, 2013

For Old Sharts and Giggles: Crude, immature laughs are still laughs in "Bad Grandpa"

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013)
92 min., rated R.

A movie called "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" doesn't really need a review and probably won't convert anyone into the pack of less discerning "Jackass" fans. It's either your thing or it's not. If watching in horror and/or amusement as Johnny Knoxville and his bravely lunatic buddies performed disgusting and dangerous stunts, including but never limited to dressing one's penis as a mouse to tease a snake, bonging a beer through the anus, and being dropped from a bungee while inside of a fully loaded PortaPotty, wasn't your cup of sunny delight, then chances are you won't be buying a ticket to "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa." Though the staged exploits are much less risky as far as the human body goes and never as inanely repulsive, writer-director Jeff Tremaine (he of all three "Jackass" features) and co-writers Knoxville and Spike Jonze cook up an R-rated quickie that's every bit as juvenile, un-PC, and low on the taste-o-meter as you'd expect.

There is something resembling a plot, but it's really just Knoxville, in old-age make-up, pulling pranks on the ordinary, unsuspecting public with a hidden-camera hook similar to "Candid Camera" or "Punk'd." 86-year-old Irving Zisman is excited to find out that his wife has passed away, seeing as how he hasn't received "any nookie since the '90s." At the funeral, his parole-violating daughter drops off 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll), expecting Irving to drive him cross-country in Nebraska and give the boy up to his deadbeat father in North Carolina. So, with Grandma's body in the trunk, Irving and Billy are on the road, paving it with inappropriate hijinks and searching for tail ("I might be too old to stir the gravy, but I can still lick the spoon," he tells one of his would-be prospects). When they're not crashing a wedding reception, disrupting a bingo parlor, running down a giant penguin mascot with the car, and invading a black male strip club, Irving and Billy will inevitably grow closer.

Pretty early on in "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," when Irving gets his prosthetic penis stuck in a soda machine and asks for help from several passersby, the viewer will be able to make up his or her mind if the rest will be a hoot or an endurance test. It's crudely made, episodic in typical road-movie fashion, and, for better or for worse, there is a bit more story and structure here than what we're used to from any of the "Jackass" features. With a wire-thin story outline existing to hang a string of insolent pranks, it's going to be hit-and-miss for a feature-length movie (which isn't much different from an anthology film or a huge ensemble piece with intertwining stories). Some gags are decidedly better than others and a few bits end too quickly before scurrying to the next, but there are more hits than misses. The gullibility of two female postal workers is side-splitting. A scene at a bar with an anti-child abuse biker organization is the most uncomfortable. And wait until you see what Grandpa explodes onto a diner wall; it'll make even those usually repulsed by toilet humor spit out their Coca Cola. When the movie comes the closest to satire, it's in the grand finale at the Carolina Cutie Pie Pageantarguably the funniest bit, despite being somewhat given away in the trailer—where the gussied-up little girls and stage mothers with mouths agape are easily targeted. Before this, at the bingo parlor, the toothless, heavy-set women that Irving hits on to no avail are refreshingly not condescended in a mean-spirited way; the joke is still on them for being duped but they're just seen as real people playing bingo. Then, when the movie wants to be a little heartwarming, we're not really buying it. This is where the admirable decision to frame the jokes within a plot just seems odd and pointless. 

As Irving Zisman, Knoxville never loses character and always follows through in getting a reaction (he mortifies a fast-food drive-in worker by offering her a "serving of Irving"), but that doesn't mean we ever forget who it is under those fake wrinkles. The standout award, however, goes to 9-year-old Jackson Nicoll, who expands on the short amount of screen time he shared with Knoxville in last year's teen romp "Fun Size"; with fearless improvisational chops, he's spot-on in his timing and delivery. We see what he's made of from the opening scene where, in a law office waiting room reading a fishing magazine, he looks for a response from any adult next to him as he goes on about his crack-addicted mother going to jail. He gets to prank some strangers by himself, too, like when he goes looking for his "new daddy."

For 92 minutes, this barely-a-movie delivers what it promises, being outrageously devised with enough spontaneity and anything-goes ambition to not go stale. When Sacha Baron Cohen pulled the same confrontational style of mischief with 2006's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" and 2009's "BrĂ¼no," he was ripping through Western America's xenophobia, sexism, anti-semitism, and homophobia with hilariously biting, inspired and shockingly crude results. "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" isn't that sharp nor is it about anything, as Knoxville and his gang are mostly just skewering good taste and mining immature laughs from the reactions of out-on-the-joke bystanders, but they sure are good at it. It may be the definition of empty calories, but, on a very basic level, bears fruit when it comes to making you laugh your ass off.

Grade: B -

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