Bad Grandpa: a swift, heartwarming kick to the funnybone


WHEN THIS MOVIE was announced, there were two sides to this. On one hand, the Jackass movies have earned a spot in my movie collection as a go-to for a quick roast with friends. On the other… this is a full-fledged film about a character, and a coherent story is expected. Jackass-level pranks and a story? Sounds very much like a mixed bag.

But fear not, for Bad Grandpa is a swift, heartwarming kick to the funnybone. The movie follows old pervert Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) as he picks up his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicolls) and takes him on a road trip across the US so his deadbeat father can take care of him in lieu of his mother, who’s gone to jail. Again.

And this being a Jackass film, of course there’s going to be mishaps: everything from a fart gone wrong to a full-blown sabotage of a children’s beauty pageant. And boy, do the duo pull them off wonderfully. The cinematography of the pranks is mind-blowing, considering some of them were done in grocery stores and diners. What’s more amazing is Nicolls and his performance during these stunts. He never breaks character, not even for a second, while people around him are freaking out and being angry while Knoxville is upholding the Jackass tradition. For a nine-year old, that’s nothing short of brilliant.

But enough about the pranks. The story itself is a wonderful, heartwarming tale of family. It’s not deep, nor is it thought-provoking; hell it’s utterly predictable, but it hits in all the right places. The chemistry between Knoxville and Nicolls is very evident both during the pranks and between them, where the two get to show off their improv chops as Billy bonds with his grandfather over their adventures. And the way the film builds this is amazing, with no superfluous scenes or any pranks that feel out of place. The whole movie feels very tightly made and the pace never feels too fast nor too slow.

That said, the only thing that really made the film weak was that the trailer showed some of the film’s best bits; the kicker, if you will. It didn’t detract from the film, nor did the shock wane, but it did lessen the punch. With these sorts of things, the audience has to be given some sort of mystery as to what these two will do, and as soon as you see a hint towards it, you know what’s coming and it kinda fizzles out at the end because of it.

Overall, Bad Grandpa is a pretty awesome night film. It’s definitely up there with the rest of the Jackass filmography as the best in prank and stunt films, but it’s also a really nice road trip film. Maybe not as nuanced as others, but it hits the spot.