Directed by: Jeff Tremaine.
Written by: Johnny Knoxville & Jeff Tremaine & Fax Bahr & Spike Jonze & Adam Small.
Starring: Johnny Knoxville (Irving Zisman), Jackson Nicoll (Billy), Greg Harris (Chuck), Georgina Cates (Kimmie).
Johnny Knoxville is a talented comedic performer who has never really found a vehicle in a regular cinematic vehicle. As soon as you script Knoxville, you lose the free flowing comedic energy that Knoxville brings to his best work. Perhaps because he ran out of ideas on how to hit himself and his friends in the balls, he decided to make Bad Grandpa – taking the old man character he created for the show and the movie, and put him on the road with an eight year old boy and filming the results Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat style. I actually think that Knoxville could probably make a good movie in this style – there are moments in Bad Grandpa that are hilarious. Yet Bad Grandpa is missing a few of things that made Borat, and to a lesser extent Bruno, work so well. For one, Knoxville doesn’t seem to have a point of view on anything. In Borat and Bruno, Baron Cohen’s goal was to expose racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. In Baron Cohen’s movies, the real people get mocked only if they expose themselves to ridicule, because they show their own prejudices. The real people in Bad Grandpa seem to be mocked simply for caring about a seemingly senile old man and a child. Second, he goes so far over the top at times, I found it difficult to accept that anyone actually believed Knoxville was a real old – not because of his performance, which is actually convincing under all that makeup, but because of the situations themselves. Did anyone really buy that he got his penis stuck in a vending machine, or that he was hauling around his wife’s dead body in the trunk of his car, or the giant fish with the huge balls and penis were real?
The movie does have the bare bones of a plot. Knoxville plays Irving Zisman – an 86 year old man whose wife has just died. At the funeral, his daughter and grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) show up, unannounced, and she tells him he needs to take Billy to his father across the country because she’s about to go back to jail. The father doesn’t want him – until he finds out he may be able to get some money for the government for taking him in. So Irving heads out on the road with Billy – getting into one crazy situation after another – which I won’t reveal here because for them to work at all they need to surprise you.
There are some things that deserve praise in Bad Grandpa. The makeup work on Knoxville is pretty outstanding – Knoxville is completely unrecognizable as Irving, and convincingly old man like. It doesn’t look like old man makeup. Knoxville is convincing as Irving as well – he doesn’t try to make him a dottering old fool, but into a slow moving, slightly senile old man. Jackson Nicoll is even better as Billy. The kid is fearless, and goes for broke in his every scene – whether its telling people about his mother’s crack addiction, or adopting random men on the street as his new father, or dressing like a girl for a pageant, the kid is a natural talent, and never breaks character. The kid is a star.
Overall though, Bad Grandpa just kind of moves from one similar scene to the next. Some of it is hilarious, but for the most part, I didn’t really find much of it funny. It was overly repetitive, and seemed too staged to be believed. Hidden camera movies and shows like this work best when the people who don’t know they are being filmed don’t seem like they are in on the joke. Here, more often than not, I think they sensed something was not quite right. It ruins the jokes. I think Knoxville could do a movie like this and make it hilarious – I just think he needs to scale things back a little and not try and be so outrageous in every scene. The best moments in Bad Grandpa show the kind of movie he could make if he wanted to. The worst scenes show that even though he is now 42, Knoxville still needs to grow up a little bit.