It’s just about time for the Oscars, folks! In less than two weeks, Hollywood’s best and brightest will convene to celebrate the best of this year’s cinema. A lot of important films focusing on important subject matter are up for awards; the nominees concern themselves with the struggle of a man sold into slavery, con men pulling off a sting on corrupt politicians, and an 86-year-old man getting his penis stuck in a vending machine.
Yes, along with high-profile Oscar bait like Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska, the hidden-camera comedy Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa could walk home with the biggest prize in all of film. Admittedly, it’s only up for Best Makeup, but that doesn’t mean advertisers can’t put “Oscar-nominated” on the DVD cover. Which I find pretty funny.
Bad Grandpa features Jackass crew member Johnny Knoxville as an old man put in charge of transporting his 8-year-old grandson across the country to live with his lowlife father. The schtick is the majority of the film is shot with hidden cameras, with the plot being furthered by unknowing American citizens reacting to prank set-ups. So it’s the Jackass you know and love mixed with a healthy spoonful of Borat.
Going into Bad Grandpa, I was honestly expecting to ream the film for being a lazy, low-brow comedy only suited for brainless neanderthals or Adam Sandler fans (i.e., the same thing). After watching the film, I must say that’s not a bad assessment, but I gotta say I ended up kind of falling for it. I’m all for high-class films about slavery and sting operations, but turns out I also enjoy watching Johnny Knoxville getting repeatedly crushed by an adjustable bed.
Alas, the film is hit-or-miss. I’ll be the first to admit that there are some scenes in Bad Grandpa that are laugh-out-loud hilarious. The funniest bits are also nicely interspersed throughout the film, so you never have to wait too long in-between big laughs. But there are also a good amount of lame set-ups and gags that just fall flat. And between three Jackass films, three Sacha Baron Cohen films and the fifty-plus prank shows on cable TV at the moment, you’ve already seen a lot of the set-ups before.
But the aspect of the film with the worst batting average are the parts without non-actors. Knoxville and the little 8-year-old kid have a lot of one-on-one conversations that never amount to anything more than lame jokes and failing attempts at sentimentality. I can respect Knoxville and crew for attempting to add a little more to the film than just “saggy balls” jokes, but it’s hard to make the audience feel fuzzy inside when the rest of the film is an old man soiling himself in a restaurant.
And settling for cheap sentimentality just feels lazy after watching what Sacha Baron Cohen did with Borat and Bruno. This hidden-camera set-up allows people to show sides of themselves they might not have even known existed, and can make for some eye-opening social commentary. Bad Grandpa flirts with a higher purpose in a scene involving a biker gang, but never ends up getting there. It’s a shame, as that would have made the film much more interesting.
But who am I kidding? I can preach all day long about how the film could have delved into deeper issues involving ageism and child (mis)care, but in the end, anybody renting Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa really just wants to see Johnny Knoxville whip out fake saggy balls in a male strip club. So go forth and have fun; Bad Grandpa‘s not a roaring success but you’ll almost definitely get a few good belly laughs in.