Pros: It’s funny at times

Cons: Puerile (and plain tasteless) humor galore; inconsistent

A semi-continuation of a sketch first included in MTV’s Jackass show more than a decade ago, the 2013 feature film Bad Grandpa follows the exploits of 86-year-old Irving Zisman and his 8-year-old grandson as they get into various misadventures on a road trip across the United States. The kicker is that Zisman isn’t actually an elderly man constantly searching for sex; he’s actually actor/comedian/prankster Johnny Knoxville wearing a rather convincing make-up rig, and the film features Knoxville/Zisman interacting with real people who take for granted that they are in fact dealing with an elderly man.

Johnny Knoxville as Irving Zisman.

There have been more and more hidden camera comedies in recent years (a fact that one would have to imagine will very shortly kill the genre): after the Jackass movies showed what was possible (especially at the box office) when toying around with ideas more or less invented by programs like Candid Camera, 2006’s Borat seemed to perfect the genre by creating something that was both wickedly funny and genuinely thought-provoking. Sure, the humor was frequently low-brow and definitively uncomfortable, but the way normal citizens interacted with an anti-Semitic and completely inappropriate Kazakh journalist ultimately revealed quite a bit about modern culture and its various viewpoints and standards. Bad Grandpa has a similar formula to Borat in that it derives its (better instances of) humor from challenging social conventions, and after the film made $100 million at the box office, it was only a matter of time before the producers would make Bad Grandpa .5 (less a feature film, more an extended episode of Jackass) to capitalize on the success. This semi-sequel is mostly made up of alternate footage that wasn’t included in the feature film and also includes interviews with the cast and crew of the picture who discuss the production. Like Jackass in general, Bad Grandpa .5 relies too heavily on sexual content and “blue humor” to truly be something special, but I can’t deny the fact that some of the situations in the film are very funny.

In a way, this production assumes that one has seen the original Bad Grandpa, since .5 acts as a sort of “making of” special highlighted by a large quantity of deleted scenes. There’s a minimal set-up here that briefly explains the origins of Irving Zisman the character, and the evolution of the make-up used to create him. This last part is potentially the most interesting since it very clearly details how much technology has improved since the early 2000s with regard to prosthetic appliances. Immediately after this short set-up, we head directly into the first of the Zisman pranks involving his interactions with golfers at a country club. I’ve often said that the best gags on the original Jackass show were the ones where the gang used an airhorn to interrupt golfers’ concentration as they attempted to make an opening drive. Their furious reactions were often priceless and, if nothing else, showed how doggone seriously some people take their golf. The Zisman golf skits aren’t nearly as good: pretending to be a greenskeeper, Zisman generally attempts to get into fights with increasingly irritated golfers by making smart remarks, moving around holes on the green, etc. Throughout Bad Grandpa .5, Knoxville/Zisman more or less does this same thing, attempting to push people’s buttons to the point where they will throw a punch at an old man. It’s really a credit to the people being pranked that no one actually attempts a suckerpunch at any point during the film, and that I think says something about the way society views the elderly.

Zisman running over a giant penguin with his car prompts one encounter which receives extensive screen time.

From here, the film is a hit-or-miss mixture of legitimately amusing moments and immature, lowbrow humor which typical emphasize the “dirty old man” aspects of the Zisman character. There’s an alarming amount of focus on SURPRISE! bodily functions – the tried and true “go-to material” for the modern comedy. A few of these sequences are genuinely funny – I seriously lost it during the scene where Zisman interrupts a couple having a would-be romantic moment in a jacuzzi by dropping (and spilling) a colostomy bag into the water – but listening to the film’s director Jeff Tremayne discuss the flatulent habits of his film crew didn’t do much for me. The extensive focus on gags in which a false, ridiculously distended scrotum is attached to Knoxville/Zisman and then virtually shoved into unknowing persons’ faces is outrageous but also completely tasteless and not particularly funny – by 2014, the gag (originally seen on the Jackass TV show in the early 2000s) simply is old news. The introduction of Catherine Keener playing Zisman’s wife and Spike Jonze (yes, a male) playing Zisman’s female high school sweetheart similarly has highlights (a scene where Keener and Knoxville discuss funeral arrangements and become sick after mistakenly eating cat food) and low points (drawn out scenes in which Jonze, playing the rather promiscuous “Gloria” character, makes out with Knoxville in public places). Much as a scene in which a sensitive and meek real-life card reader attempts to provide Zisman and Gloria with romantic advice is hilariously uncomfortable, I lost interest in the constant focus on Zisman’s (insatiable) sexual appetite – this material (and its apparent fascination with anal sex) quickly became tiresome.

Spike Jonze as Gloria and Knoxville as Zisman consult a tantric sex expert.

The “behind the scenes” footage interspersed throughout the production provides a bit of respite from the barrage of pranks, and for anyone interested in the process of making a film like this, it’s actually fairly illuminating. The production crew here had to get extremely creative to pull this whole thing off, placing cameras in odd places and filming continuously since they never knew when comedy gold would appear during the unscripted scenarios. I also really got an idea of how generally difficult it is to make a film like this in an era where the general public has gotten used to getting “trolled” or pranked – for every worthwhile moment captured during the filming process, there were dozens of takes that were simply unusable since not everyone out there “buys into” Irving Zisman. In a way, considering the exposure that reality TV and programs like Da Ali G Show (and hence the Borat and Bruno movies), Jackass, and MTV’s Punk’d have had, it’s kind of astonishing that a film like Bad Grandpa could even be pulled off at all, but the fact that Knoxville (and more importantly, his make-up) was so convincing went a long way in getting real people to interact with him and at least take the Zisman character seriously.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about this film was the fact that it premiered on MTV on Father’s Day – considering the constant crude sexual content, it’s hard to believe this would show (inexplicably rated TV-14 as opposed to the TV-MA rating I would think it deserved) on TV at all. Mind you, four-letter profanity was bleeped out, but this film is wildly inappropriate for children (though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that MTV, long the purveyor of what I would call trash content directed squarely at young people, would air it without any issues). I should also point out that the home video release of this film (scheduled for release in July 2014) is technically “unrated,” so it will include even more outrageous content – and unbleeped profanity.

Irving and his wife (played by Catherine Keener) discuss funeral arrangements.

I don’t think anyone entering this film would in any way be expecting honest-to-goodness greatness: the Jackass crew has never done “subtle” or even tasteful, yet, like most everything else they’ve done, there are some genuinely amusing moments to be found in Bad Grandpa .5. That said, the overwhelming lowbrow content is likely to turn away some viewers even as it makes the film “better” for others. There’s really no denying that Bad Grandpa .5 runs out of steam as it goes along – though this runs maybe 80 minutes or so total, by about the halfway point, I wasn’t laughing nearly as hard at anything onscreen. The behind the scenes footage also ensures that moments of “hilarity” are somewhat isolated from one another. In the end, perhaps unsurprisingly, I suspect that those whose sense of humor runs towards the gross and/or downright tasteless would eat this up, even if it’s not quite the more consistent stream of outrageous behavior that Bad Grandpa itself is. Those with more refined taste would be wise to tread carefully: yes, this film has some funny moments, but the question remains how much extreme content viewers would be willing to tolerate in order to get a moderate payoff.


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