Sunday, November 30, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013) *

UR, 102 min.
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Writers: Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, Jeff Tremaine, Fax Bahr, Adam Small
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Greg Harris

Perhaps it is fitting that I should follow up the documentary “The Final Member”, about the world’s only penis museum, with a movie produced by the Jackass crew. “Bad Gandpa” got surprisingly good reviews when it was released in theaters last fall. I have, up to this point, been fortunate enough to avoid anything and everything having to do with the MTV show “Jackass”, which somehow jumped from the small screen to the big screen with three theatrical releases based on its hosts’ stupid choices. Now comes what I guess is their attempt at a dramatic narrative.

“Bad Grandpa” is still based on the silly pranks and inane stunts of the “Jackass” series, but this time they’ve dressed it up with Academy Award nominated make up. I’ll tell you now that I didn’t think it deserved its nomination before seeing the make up job in context, now I feel even stronger about that judgment. The difference between this one and the other “Jackass” movies is that they’ve created a flimsy story upon which to hang their juvenile antics.

The movie follows the story of a man who has just lost his wife to illness and is happy to be free of her. Unfortunately, it is at this very moment that his daughter is convicted of a meth possession and must saddle him with making sure his grandson gets to his deadbeat father in another state. This opens the possibility of a road trip, that steadfast construct of movies trying to derive meaning from an event that is supposed to be fun.

The stunt gags that are perpetrated in front of supposedly oblivious bystanders are rarely funny and are so obviously shoehorned into their bogus plot, I really don’t understand why they bothered. Sure, Betty White proved to us all that it is a slightly different trick to the candid camera model that an old person should be at the center of a practical joke played on a complete stranger, but the mere fact that the jokester is old is not comedy in itself. So few of the gags are funny to begin with, and mostly they are highly improbable. What is amazing to me is that they felt they were effective enough to package them into a feature release. Even the reactions of most of the bystanders seem to be fairly unimpressed by what they’re witnessing, if not completely aware that they are being played and wondering—as the audience must—to what end?

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