Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a hidden-camera epic that opens with 86-year old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) learning that his wife has died. Feeling free for the first time in decades, he decides to have a good time. Apparently, this means getting his privates stuck in the soda machine outside a convenience store, complete with a prosthetic. Hidden-camera means, of course, that most people on-screen have no idea Zisman is played by an actor or that they’re being filmed.
You’ll also see Irving sexually harass women in a variety of locations – an office park, a bingo parlor, and a male strip club. The comedy is tone-deaf. At the bingo parlor, he hits on nearby women and drinks the blue fluid used to mark bingo cards. When he ups the ante and takes a blender from his bag to make a drink, several patrons scramble away, thinking the black-and-silver base is a homemade bomb. After all, it’s hilarious to make a crowd of senior citizens think you’re about to blow them up, right?
Bad Grandpa breaks this up with moments when grandson Billy (nine-year old Jackson Nicoll) interrupts women in the middle of their workday to call them strippers and translate to them the various sexual acts that Irving (pretending he can’t talk) would like to do to them.
All the sketches are hamstrung into a wannabe-plot about a cross-country road trip the two take. We aren’t given a single reveal – that moment when people realize they’re in a hidden-camera sketch – until the end credits. I imagine most revealed a slap in the face and a call to a lawyer.
To get to those end credits? You have to go through Billy performing a striptease at a youth beauty pageant in front of young children and their families. Are you laughing yet?
My favorite hidden-camera sketch came from a show called The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. Jamie Kennedy plays a Hollywood tour guide who breaks into the home of Bob Saget, famous for playing good-natured dad Danny Tanner on Full House. Kennedy encourages the unsuspecting tourists to take souvenirs from Saget’s home and break his things, claiming it’s all part of the tour.
When Saget arrives home, he claims Kennedy is a stalker and accuses the tourists of being burglars and thieves. Some react with embarrassment, some blame Kennedy, and others try to justify their actions. As the sketch reaches a fever pitch, Kennedy and Saget finally reveal the gag. It was a prank, a social experiment, and ended with two TV stars taking pictures with smiling fans who were excited to be part of it. All managed without sexual harassment, racism, ruining anyone’s childhood, or making someone feel like they’re about to be molested.
That shouldn’t be hard to accomplish, but watching Bad Grandpa feels like being asked to babysit drunk frat boys and getting told one of them is on the National Sex Offender Registry. Its humor is lazy, its racism and sexism without excuse. Worst of all, there are no negative consequences for Irving’s acts. Bad Grandpa uses its MTV connection to aim itself at kids, but without a point to make, we’re really just offered a 42-year old man dressed as an 86-year old man as an excuse to insult women and make a 9-year old boy do a striptease in front of 9-year old girls. If that’s funny to someone, I don’t know him, and please don’t introduce us.
The only thing I can say for Bad Grandpa is that Knoxville is a gifted physical comedian who is convincing as an 86-year old. I just wish he’d done something funnier or more useful with his talents.
I hate to say I can’t recommend a film to anyone, but there’s no one upon whom I’d wish this train wreck. Save yourself the time and money and rent a better hidden-camera alternative. MTV’s Punk’d had the budget to pull intricate pranks on famous actors and musicians. The Jamie Kennedy Experiment had variety and moments of comedic genius in its sketches. While SyFy’s Scare Tactics, a hidden-camera show with a science-fiction/horror theme, is often amateurish, it has its heart in the right place.
Bad Grandpa is rated R for “strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use.” It’s the worst film I’ve ever seen in a theater.
A version of this review by Gabriel Valdez appears in the 10/31/13 edition of La Vernia News.