Every day, we are hurtling closer to death. Every day. Every damn day. It’s coming! Did you know that Johnny Knoxville is now 42 years old? It doesn’t seem too long ago when he was that strapping young man who was wallowing neck deep in human feces (but enough about that time he starred in “Men in Black II!” Ooooo! Zip, Zap, Zokes! Welcome to the jokes, ghost-brains!). But now Knoxville is an old man with brittle bones and a pair of testicles that can no longer stand the strain of being stapled to the ass of Bam Margera (who, incidentally, is an old man too even though he still looks like he stinks of spilled bong water and Denny’s). And yet, it’s OK. Because even though Knoxville has gotten older, he hasn’t lost any of his edge. He may not be able to perform the same kind of stunts he performed in his 20s, but that hasn’t stopped him from slathering makeup on his face and slapping angry male strippers with a pair of grotesquely elongated rubber testicles. As “Bad Grandpa” proves, he’s still got it.
Reprising the most popular (if not, only) character from the “Jackass” series, Knoxville plays thieving, perpetually horny octogenarian Irving Zisman, who is forced to look after his grandson (Jackson Nicoll) when the boy’s mother is sent to jail. Seeing the kid as only a “c—kblock” that will prevent him from truly enjoying life now that his wife is dead, Irving convinces the boy’s deadbeat father to take the kid off his hands. But as Irving takes the long trip to North Carolina, he and the boy bond as they steal food from supermarkets, get drunk in the middle of a public park, and trick eerily complacent furniture movers into stuffing Irving’s dead wife into the trunk of his car. Y’know, typical granddad, grandson stuff.
In any other movie, the opening shot of an old man getting his dick stuck in the coin return slot of a soda machine would be a grimly unfunny portend of things to come. But in “Bad Grandpa”, this hacky, gross-out gag is exhilarating because it’s happening in front of actual people: frightened and confused non-actors who are either charmed by Knoxville’s prank or violently angry. Like a gentler, far less satirical version of “Borat” (although “Bad Grandpa’s” jab at child beauty pageants is pretty trenchant, even if it isn’t exactly fresh), “Bad Grandpa” is basically a road movie that is being inflicted upon unsuspecting passers-by, and it’s that unexpected guerilla edge that keeps the film interesting.
Also interesting is the chemistry between Knoxville and Nicoll. Their relationship is sweet without becoming maudlin and actually makes some of the film’s more acidic gags a little easier to swallow. For instance, when Irving announces that he’s got to “feed this little prick,” it’s easier to laugh knowing that deep down he really loves the kid. Nicoll also deserves credit for the unassuming poignancy he brings to the role. He effortlessly nails the funny, hangdog aspects of lines like, “My mom’s breath stinks really bad because of all of the crack she smokes.” Nicoll is never obnoxious in the role or too cutesy. He’s perfect.
Dark, frequently gross but also surprisingly warm, “Bad Grandpa” is easily one of the strongest comedies released this year.
Rating: W W W