You were probably shocked.
You may have even been offended.
Those of you who've been following my writing for awhile will unquestionably remember my wholehearted endorsement of a certain Johnny Knoxville film called The Ringer, a little gem of a film where Knoxville endearingly plays a guy trying to erase his debt by rigging the Special Olympics with himself as a surefire contestant.
The Ringer was kind of outrageous and offensive and, at times, more than a little tasteless. It was also laugh out loud funny and sweet and endearing and, when you really gave it some thought, far from an offensive film as it rather boldly yet goofily embraced the individuals with disabilities who were the subject and supporting stars of the film. The Ringer was the film that convinced me that Johnny Knoxville, mostly known for his over-the-top antics in the Jackass films, could really and truly act.
The Ringer wasn't Knoxville's first non-Jackass film, but it was the film that really convinced me he was more than his Jackass persona being brought to life in films where such a persona fit in quite nicely.
Knoxville has, at times, questioned his role selection as he's intermittently journeyed away from the Jackass films and into more mainstream cinema. Truthfully, he may never become an actor who truly sheds the lingering effects of having starred in the Jackass television and cinematic endeavors.
So be it.
I say it again. Johnny Knoxville can act.
Jackass Presents Brad Grandpa gives Knoxville the chance to both embrace his Jackass roots while also proving once again that he's a creatively adventurous and risk-taking actor who deserves to have Hollywood looking his way more often. In this film, he brings to the forefront the 86-year-old character of Irving Zisman, an occasional character from the Jackass films who took the Jackass style antics and made us laugh even harder because as an 86-year-old he got away with a lot of things that would have landed many younger men in jail or, at the least, encountering the wrath of a non-accepting public.
I have a bit in my own stand-up comedy routine where I talk about my experience of getting my pant legs caught in my wheelchair while sitting in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I talk about the people I encountered on that day and, yes, the experience of having this magnificent specimen of a woman, named Bambi, who came up to me and absolutely insisted on helping me out of my predicament, my pants and, well, you get the idea.
The team behind Bad Grandpa knows that even this basic scenario is funny and entrusting it into the hands of Johnny Knoxville practically guarantees a good time to be had by all.
Knoxville's Zisman is driving his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) across the country and back to his real father. If you're expecting a groundbreaking screenplay, you're going to be incredibly disappointed. There's a reason this film is proudly presented by Jackass - Knoxville gives us an absolutely delightful, hilarious and, I'll dare say, a downright touching 92-minute film with his Zisman finding himself in a host of Jackass style antics that will either offend you to the max or have you soiling yourself from too much laughter.
There's an unusual postal encounter that, even in its brevity, will leave you laughing while horrified.
There's a hijacking of a crashing of a children's beauty pageant that has all the balls, outrageousness and heart that you were really hoping for when you were watching Little Miss Sunshine.
There's an incredibly funny bit involving a dude with the stereotypical East Coast attitude when Zisman runs over a certain corporate penguin.
I gotta be honest. Even as I write this review and remember these scenes, I'm sitting at my desk barely able to type because I'm laughing to the point of tears.
As is always true with the Jackass films, Tremaine and Knoxville work together to take well planned set-ups that are placed smack dab in the middle of very real people. Actually, I suppose that this film really ups the ante on that approach because the Jackass films have always had a sort of insular quality about them. While the guys did crazy antics, often publicly, the truth is that they seldom actually involved other people. That's not true here. The results? They are frequently hilarious and exploding with a spontaneous energy that makes Bad Grandpa one of late 2013's best comedies.
In some ways, Bad Grandpa feels more like a Borat style film that weaves together Candid Camera with a road trip film and somehow comes up with a film that is more entertaining than you would likely imagine.
I've always thought that one of the reasons that people laugh at my Wal-Mart story is because it's a wildly inappropriate story with a happy ending and, at its most naughty, it reveals many wonderful things about the human spirit.
So does Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa. Knoxville's Zisman is truly a "bad grandpa" in every sense of the word - he's naughty and inappropriate and racist and sexist and everything else you could possibly imagine. Yet, just as happened with The Ringer, Knoxville gives us a far more complex Zisman who will have you thinking about him long after you've watched the film. Amidst all the chaos and naughtiness, there's an unabashed celebration of the human spirit here that left me simultaneously laughing and crying.
The film's other gem is relative newcomer Jackson Nicoll, a bold young actor whose comic timing is awesome and whose chemistry with Knoxville is undeniable. The scene, in particular, involving the beauty pageant is so irreverent and bold and brilliant that it may have you recalling the shock you felt when you watched Chloe Moretz in the original Kick-Ass.
Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa isn't a brilliant film nor a perfect film, but it shouldn't be a brilliant film or a perfect film. This film is about flawed people doing flawed things in flawed ways and getting flawed results.
That's what makes it perfect.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic