October 24, 2013

Bad Grandpa

Fall off my lawn

Grade: C
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

The hilarity of Bad Grandpa, a spin-off from the miscreants behind MTV’s Jackass series, is directly proportional to the extent you believe the stunned reactions by strangers to the crude and crazy antics are genuine. The filmmakers knows this, too, going to extra lengths to reinforce the candid camera construct over the closing credits.

Indeed, half the fun in watching (for anyone above age 18) is trying to decipher the sometimes intricate set and stunt design, the “how did they do that” (and/or “how did they get away with that”) quality of what passes for performance art.

Of course, that’s viewing Bad Grandpa in its best light. Otherwise, it is tawdry tomfoolery whose gravest offense isn't that it’s offensive, though there’s plenty of that. It’s just utterly inconsequential, immediately forgettable but for a couple of penile and scatological gags that will linger in your synapses longer than you’d like.

There’s a semblance of a three-act story: after the passing of his wife and before the incarceration of his adult daughter, octogenarian Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville, in old man makeup) is unexpectedly charged with driving cross-country—his wife’s corpse swaddled in the trunk—to deliver his eight year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) to Billy’s reprobate father living in Raleigh, N.C. Along the way, the dirty old grandpa accosts strangers on the street (usually female), steals groceries, and crashes weddings, bingo halls, biker bars, male revue strip clubs, and even a Carolina Cutie Pie pageant that culminates with a Little Miss Sunshine-style striptease dance routine.

All the while, the real comedy is the reaction shots of onlookers. Some are undoubtedly in on the gags; most are not. But, there’s only so much entertainment value in watching people struggle to process a codger projectile pooping onto a diner wall, wrestling a giant fish equipped with oversized genitalia or getting his prosthetic penis stuck in a soda machine.

North Carolina figures prominently, a consequence of film industry tax incentives and the state’s lax hidden camera laws. Shooting locales range from a local golf course to the State Capitol to the Gastonia Chapter of The Guardians of the Children bikers to the drive-thru window at Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill. But even these glints of familiarity, along with some surprising buddy chemistry between Knoxville and Nicoll, aren’t enough to salvage the silliness. In the end, you’ll just want to pull the plug on Bad Grandpa.

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