A Jackass film has been nominated for an Oscar. Let’s take a moment to think about that. That franchise about guys going around doing dangerous stunts and frightening unsuspecting civilians with intense and elaborate pranks have been acknowledged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their most recent film, ‘Bad Grandpa’. Sure, it was for Make-Up and Special Effects, but I bet it’s a situation they nor anyone ever expected. We’ll leave that for a moment, but just something to consider. As for the film itself, it shows the Jackass team at their most daring - not in terms of the stunts and effects they pull off, but with the decision to hold them together with a narrative. And another surprise - it actually works!
Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) is 86 years old, and has just lost his wife. Bubbling with excitement at his newfound freedom and the women that await him, his dreams are stalled when his daughter forces him to take his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) and drive him across country to his father while she goes to jail. Over the course of the journey, the old man and the young boy connect as they terrorise almost everyone they come in contact with, and Irving learns that Billy might not be the annoying "cock-block" he thought he was.
There’s no point pretending that ‘Bad Grandpa’ is great cinema, but what makes the film such an entertaining and charming experience is that it doesn’t pretend to be. The narrative is sketchy but strong enough to hold the film together, and provides some surprisingly poignant moments amidst the hell-raising. The stunts themselves are very impressive, and the commitment both Knoxville and Nicoll show to them is what sells them to the real-life victims dragged into them. Holding them together with a story is a bold idea but one that could have shot them in the foot if it weren’t so well thought through, but it helps to increase the stakes of the stunts, so it becomes not just about embarrassing random people but how it builds the relationship between Irving and Billy.
What really makes this film work are Knoxville and Nicoll. Their on-screen chemistry is fantastic, and they bounce so beautifully off one another. Knoxville is as charismatic as ever, even under the ageing make-up, and at times demonstrates some genuinely subtle and intelligent talent as an actor, especially in the more personal moments between grandpa and grandson. Nicoll is cute as a button, but even at his young age, knows how to play this to his advantage. His comic timing is impeccable, enough that you can see Knoxville genuinely impressed. With the film focusing on their relationship and linking them to each stunt, it gives the film a strong through-line and makes it an emotional experience as well as an entertaining one.
There’s no point pretending that ‘Bad Grandpa’ is great cinema, but what makes the film such an entertaining and charming experience is that it doesn’t pretend to be.
‘Bad Grandpa’ won’t go down as a classic, but will become one of those almost-cult comedies you’ll revisit over time. Genuinely funny, often perfectly gross and occasionally moving, it’s a great little success for the Jackass team. And an Oscar nominee. We’re not quite ready to forget that.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘Bad Grandpa’ isn’t a great looking film, constructed from various film sources from primary high-def cameras to lesser-quality hidden ones. As such, Paramount’s 1080p 1.78:1 transfer isn’t the best Blu-ray demonstration, but accurately recreates the original film. When it can be, detail is clear, and the colours in the film pop beautifully. In fact, the transfer highlights the great use of colour in the design of the film. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track holds a bit better, but it has better sources to work from. Predominantly dialogue-driven, it’s nice and clear, and does its job.
The Australian release offers both the original theatrical cut and an extended cut with a few more stunts thrown in. The extended cut can seem a little long at times, but the added material doesn’t weigh the film down too much. There are also alternate takes of the stunts in the film, and a few extra deleted scenes. The most interesting feature though is the half-hour of behind-the-scenes footage, a really fascinating look into how the stunts were planned and executed. Not only do we see how they were achieved, but also the reactions of the public once they realise they’ve been part of the film. A small but solid package of extras.