The story revolves around the Zisman family and how the family deals with a set of tragic events. Irving Zisman (Knoxville) is a “free” man following the death of his wife of several years and is ready to get back into the single life. His daughter Kimmie is about to go to jail again for violating parole and wants him to take his 8-year old grandson to North Carolina to be with his deadbeat father. From there it’s more or less about how Billy and his grandfather Irving eventually start to bond in strange ways along the trip. The story in itself is pretty basic and ultimately is just a device used to setup the various gags throughout the film. It’s made in the same vein as Borat and Bruno in the sense that there is a story intertwined with the reactions of non-scripted actors caught on various hidden cameras.
Going into the film I was pretty optimistic being a big fan of the “Irving Zisman” skits from the Jackass productions, and the trailer made it seem as if the film was going to have its fair share of funny situations for fans of the series. Of course, that is definitely one of the downsides to the film though– it doesn’t really offer anything new to people who are skeptical in seeing a movie that is attached to the Jackass name. While the film certainly has more of a story than your average Jackass sketch, it’s premise still feels pretty flimsy. The film also suffers from being unable to determine what exactly it is that it wants to be. One minute it will be a scripted movie with Knoxville and Nicoll, the next it will be a series of “bits” designed to have fun with an unsuspecting audience. The transition is never smooth and it’s one of the things that really affected my viewing.
The bits are hit and miss, but are pretty standard fare if you are used to the projects for which the creators are best known. The problem with even the bits, though, is that at times they seem very forced into the plotline. One in particular gag involving a giant fish comes out of nowhere and seems to serve no purpose other than it was a joke they had that they wanted to squeeze into the film. Even the setup is awkward and seems more suited as a deleted extra than being in the finished version of the film. Not to mention that the bit itself is a pretty played out gag on their part.
That’s not to say that Bad Grandpa doesn’t have it’s share of funny bits, as it does. The funeral scene, the stripper scene, and the beauty pageant are all pretty well done skits. The reactions by the real people who were involved were all high points in the film. There were also bits involving mailing Billy, arguing about whether or not Irving was going to fix a penguin he broke, and an incident in a restaurant that all are worth mentioning as well. It’s just that the film never seems to capitalize on this momentum and often feels like it is spinning tires rather than going full speed towards it’s conclusion.
I will give all the credit in the world to Jackson Nicoll, though, who plays 8-year old Billy. At a young age, he seems to have a natural knack for comedy which is something not many kids can say. The way he handles himself in the situations he is in without losing his composure is truly remarkable when you think about it. At any given moment if he had snickered or failed to maintain character– traits that would have been easy for a young boy– then the whole bit would be ruined. Knoxville, as usual, does a great job in his role of Irving Zisman and he’s really managed to do well in that role.
Ultimately while the premise seems funny enough the film comes off as something that was best suited for short bits rather than a feature length. There is nothing that I can see being appealing for those who aren’t fans of Jackass, and even some who are fans will feel that they’ve seen a good deal of this already. If you have interest I’d just wait until it hits cable or satellite and save yourself the extra money.
Bad Grandpa gets a two out of five: FORGETTABLE.