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Bad Grandpa’ gross, raunchy, hilarious

Kevin Noonan | Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In opening a film with a prank of an 86-year-old man getting his genitalia stuck in a vending machine, the filmmakers behind “Bad Grandpa” accomplish a few important and necessary tasks immediately.

First of all, as should be expected from a movie in any way associated with the Jackass franchise, the audience should prepare themselves for a good amount of inappropriate, borderline disgusting humor.

Secondly, the film will draw as much juice as possible out of the reactions of regular folk to Johnny Knoxville’s old man antics in his disguise as Irving Zisman, an aging, horny, boozing and all around hilarious octogenarian.

Thirdly, and most importantly, if you find old people doing funny things and Jackass’s trademark penchant for the raunchy, you will find this film hilarious.

I, for one, thought it was hilarious. Though the film’s narrow focus on Zisman prevents from being on the same level as the best of the Jackass films by the sheer fact that “Bad Grandpa” couldn’t have featured Irving Zisman on a see-saw desperately trying to avoid a raging bull or some of the other kinds of pranks that made those Jackass films memorable.

But Knoxville and long time Jackass director Jeff Tremaine know that this movie is different, and they don’t pretend like it is. Instead, they introduce a storyline, the first of any Jackass film to do so.

Zisman must take his grandson, Billy, across country, from Nebraska to North Carolina, to his deadbeat absent father after the boy’s mother goes back to jail for drugs. Jackson Nicoll as Billy is perfectly cast across Knoxville’s Zisman; the chubby, innocent looking Billy is able to smile and cute his way into any number of hilarious conversations with real adults (especially women), which Zisman almost inevitably crashes and ruins.

There’s an odd sweetness to the relationship between Zisman and Billy that grounds the film and prevents it from devolving into a bunch of gross out pranks with an old man and a little kid (which, essentially, is what it is).

But by juxtaposing Zisman drunkenly making margaritas and drinking ink and playing bingo with Billy approaching men on the street and asking them if they will be his dad, and then insisting that they are in fact his real dad, the film establishes an underlying sadness in the situation. That’s not to say that this is a deep film; it’s not. But there’s a realness to it that carries the continued pranks on the public and creates a curiously sweet payoff in its conclusion.

As “Little Miss Sunshine” showed, there are few more hilariously satisfying sequences than screwing with young children’s beauty pageants, and “Bad Grandpa” honorably picks up that mantle and continues the Hollywood tradition of films throwing up sweet, irreverent middle fingers to the eccentricities involved in the contests.

When Billy finishes his performance, which anyone who’s seen the trailer can tell you involves a stripper pole and the song “Cherry Pie,” and he and his grandfather share a fishing trip in which they try to avoid the body of Zisman’s dead wife, which they’ve thrown in the water, the film accomplishes a combination of familial bonding and sweetness with irreverence and raunchiness that few have ever achieved.

It’s not a perfect film through and through, but the high points are high enough and the public reactions memorable enough to make this yet another solid entry in the Jackass franchise.


Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan2@nd.edu