Film review: Bad Grandpa

20:59, Nov 17 2013
bad grandpa
HITTING THE ROAD: Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll star in Bad Grandpa.

Directed by Jeff Tremaine
Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett

The idea is this: Take Johnny Knoxville's "old man" character, and send him out on a roadtrip across the Southern states to enact a bunch of Jackass-style pranks. But this time, rather than make the movie just a compilation of those pranks, give the character a backstory and a grandson, and tie the stunts together with scripted scenes, so that Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa can stand as an actual film, with a plot, and characters, and y'know, stuff.

It's not a bad idea, as long as the film is any good. And that's where Jackass: Bad Grandpa fails.

Director Jeff Tremaine, with star and co-writer Johnny Knoxville, have dialled back on the trademark Jackass shenanigans, and seem to be making a bid to have Bad Grandpa accepted as a comedy drama in its own right. Albeit a comedy drama that happens to feature a man being catapulted through a plate-glass window.

Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat and Bruno have already trod these boards, and they delivered big time at the box-office, and even scored well with some of the critics. But where Cohen is utterly fearless, and jaw-droppingly inventive, Knoxville and co seem like no more than ageing frat-boys still giggling at fart jokes. In only one scene, in which Knoxville gate-crashes a black male strip review, and then joins in with a prosthetic scrotum dangling from his Y fronts, did I genuinely fear for his safety. The pivotal early scene, in which Knoxville stages a funeral for his "wife of many years" (a very game Catherine Keener), never gets to anywhere inventive, and the subsequent sub- plot, about transporting Keener's body in the boot of the car, is all but forgotten in the rush to the next setup.

Really, only two things stand out about Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. One is the performance of Knoxville's 9-year-old co-star Jackson Nicoll. The kid really is a fantastic talent, and as long as his astonishing precocity doesn't destroy his charm, he'll be worth looking out for in the future.

The other is a climactic scene in which Nicoll, dressed in drag, crashes and wrecks a children's beauty pageant. The scene is easily the funniest in the film. But it is also a blatant and unconscionable ripoff of the exact same setup in Little Miss Sunshine. I've never seen a film plagiarise another so shamelessly. In fact, that scene got me thinking that Knoxville's character, and half the plot of Bad Grandpa, are actually lifted wholesale from Sunshine.

Being "inspired by" is one thing, but stealing from another writer's work is quite another, and for that reason, despite the fact that Bad Grandpa has a few hard-earned laughs, it is still an absolutely lousy film.


The Dominion Post