Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Premise: An elderly man (Johnny Knoxville in old age makeup) takes his eight year old grandson (Jackson Nicoll) on a road trip, intending to turn the boy over to his deadbeat father.
What Works: Bad Grandpa was made by the filmmakers behind the Jackass franchise, including star Johnny Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine, and the story is essentially a framework around which they can perform outrageous pranks and stunts. In that respect, Bad Grandpa is similar to Borat in that it is a mix of scripted comedy and improvised pranks with unwitting participants. The film includes stunts of the same caliber as other Jackass projects so viewers who liked those films and television shows will probably laugh at the shenanigans here. The old age makeup applied to Johnny Knoxville is convincing but the most notable performance in Bad Grandpa is provided by Jackson Nicoll as the grandson. Nicoll is game for the pranks and his deadpan delivery is often perfect.
What Doesn’t: Bad Grandpa isn’t very funny even for the type of comedy it is attempting to be. For viewers who sat through and enjoyed movies like Borat, The Hangover, and even the earlier Jackass features, Bad Grandpa comes up very short. Nothing in it is surprising or imaginative and the whole enterprise comes across as lazy. The film is built around the conceit of Johnny Knoxville dressed in an old man getup and behaving inappropriately. Watching an elderly man and a small child doing and saying foolish and offensive things is amusing for a little while but it isn’t enough to build a feature film around. Unfortunately the filmmakers of Bad Grandpa have nothing else up their sleeve and the movie gets really repetitive. The bereftness of creativity comes to a head in the finale, which plagiarizes (and that is the right word for what the filmmakers have done) the ending of Little Miss Sunshine. The rip-off of that scene, and the failure to make anywhere near the same impact, reveals another key mistake of Bad Grandpa: the filmmakers do not know what kind of movie they were trying to make. The film is split between two obvious influences, Borat and Bad Santa, but the filmmakers ignore the qualities that made those movies work. Like Borat, Bad Grandpa mixes real life pranks with scripted moments but Johnny Knoxville’s old man is not nearly as interesting as Sacha Baron Cohen’s creation nor does Bad Grandpa reveal anything about the people who are pranked. It’s also significant that Bad Grandpa is not a pseudo-documentary; it isn’t presented with the same kind of conceit as Borat but it is shot with hidden cameras and other handheld cinema styles. This may be due to Bad Grandpa being a product of the Jackass crew but because it isn’t a pseudo-documentary there is no reason for it to look this haphazard. That pseudo-documentary approach hurts the movie in its other goal, which is to imitate Bad Santa. The movie sets up a similar situation, in which an irresponsible adult is paired with a young boy but because the filmmaking style constantly makes reference to itself as a movie it is impossible for the viewer to immerse him or herself in the moment in the way a dramatic film requires. The filmmakers also don’t understand the key element of Bad Santa, that beneath its salacious surface Bad Santa was a goodhearted story about a title character who was not to be admired and whose drunkenness was a downward spiral of self-destruction. When the moviemakers of Bad Grandpa attempt to elicit the same kind of emotional reaction from the audience these scenes fall flat and even come across as crass sentimentality. The coup de grâce of Bad Grandpa is the plagiarism of Little Miss Sunshine, quite literally ripping off the final scene with no reference to what it means or why the gag worked in its original context.
Bottom Line: Bad Grandpa is made for an audience that doesn’t think much about what it is watching and who take pleasure in random acts of cruelty and sensation. The filmmakers of Bad Grandpa give those viewers exactly what they want without aspiring to even do it well.
Episode: #465 (November 10, 2013)