Bad Grandpa: Johnny Knoxville makes a ‘Jackass’ of himself

by Mark Burger

Bad Grandpa. The title says it all. And as the latest spin-off from MTV’s “Jackass” universe, that says it all, too.

But if its laughs you seek (taste optional), Bad Grandpa is a funny diversion that isn’t as foul as you might fear. It’s raunchy and shameless, but unlike the previous Jackass films — which were basically expansions and extensions of the popular TV series — here there’s some semblance of a storyline (nuances optional).

The film follows the never-bashful Johnny Knoxville as Irving Zissman, the title character, with young scene-stealer Jackson Nicoll as his unflappable 8-year-old grandson Billy. Grandma’s dead and they’re hitting the road together. Their ultimate destination, as it turns out, is North Carolina.

Everywhere they go, of course, the hidden cameras are waiting to capture the bemused, alarmed and embarrassed reactions of those who encounter Irving and Billy, whose penchant for creating chaos seems to escalate with each new destination. The film can hardly be accused of subtlety, but there’s a warped method to its madness.

In addition to the old-age makeup, which is extremely convincing, Knoxville appropriates the physical trademarks of his octogenarian character. He’s actually acting — and not doing a bad job of it at all. (In an inspired bit of cameo casting, Catherine Keener, herself buried under mounds of makeup, plays dead as Grandma.)

The individual gags are funny in and of themselves, and director Jeff Tremaine (who helmed the previous Jackass features), wisely keeps the film on the move throughout. But what distinguishes Bad Grandpa — as much as it can be distinguished — is the easy, enjoyable chemistry between Knoxville and young Nicoll. They’re simply a very funny duo who bounce off each other (sometimes literally) with what can only be described as shameless aplomb.