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'Bad Grandpa' finds a jackass trying to give us heart

Johnny Knoxville spins off a "Jackass" character for "Bad Grandpa," which finds the performer squeezing sentimentality in between shocking pranks.

Johnny Knoxville (in old man makeup) and Jackson Nicoll get into trouble in "Bad Grandpa." Credit: Sean Cliver Johnny Knoxville (in old man makeup) and Jackson Nicoll get into trouble in "Bad Grandpa."
Credit: Sean Cliver

'Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa'
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

At 42, Knoxville is the only “Jackass” masochist who wants to keep the party going. Anybody who has watched the making-of documentary for “Jackass Number Two” knows how impossible it is for Knoxville to stop with the concussion-inducing shenanigans, as he kept forcing the film crew to shoot him slamming into street signs over and over again, long after initial production wrapped.

The spinoff movie “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa” has Knoxville (plus director Jeff Tremaine and producer/writer/sometime performer Spike Jonze) dusting off elderly character Irving Zisman, who would do typical, dirty-old man stuff around unsuspecting people.

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This movie attempts to do what none of the previous “Jackass” movies have done: actually wrap a plot around the madness. Dusting off his dirty old man Irving Zisman character, Knokville rejoices over the death of his wife, free to once again get frisky with the opposite sex. He initially celebrates by going to a convenience store and physically penetrating an outdoor vending machine, which obviously leads to some stunned, not-so-sympathetic reactions from passersby.

This celebration gets cut short when his soon-to-be-incarcerated daughter (Georgina Cates) leaves him with her son, Billy (Jackson Nicoll). The movie soon morphs into a buddy/road comedy as Zisman travels through the U.S. in a gigantic Lincoln Continental, en route to North Carolina, where Zisman hopes Billy’s deadbeat dad will take the brat off his hands.

Throughout their journey, Zisman/Knoxville and the young scamp engage real-life participants in the movie’s hidden-camera pranks. Some are elaborate, as when Knoxville and Nicoll infiltrate a kiddie beauty pageant — the movie’s just-plain-wrong-on-every-level centerpiece. Some are seemingly spur-of-the-moment, including Knoxville trying to pick up random women off the street. “Grandpa” is in the same guerilla-comedy vein as Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” and “Bruno” — except without Cohen’s snarling contempt toward his victims.

While all of these pranks have Knoxville reveling in bad taste, the whole thing is silly, lightweight and routinely raunchy. As low-brow and gross as some of these bits get, the whole thing lacks the extreme, dangerous, I-can’t-believe-they-went-there transgressiveness the original “Jackass” movies dispensed. Compared to the other films, “Grandpa” is downright quaint.

But “Grandpa” is also the first “Jackass” to tug at your heartstrings. Zisman and his grandson bond during their little trip, and Knoxville actually tries to display some tender sincerity when he isn’t engaging in awful behavior. It’s weird watching a “Jackass” movie desperately show there’s a heart beating underneath all that mischievous fat. The crazy thing is that the “Jackass” movies proved that Knoxville and his crew had nothing but heart — they definitely needed it in order to do the twisted, jaw-droppingly insane junk they did.

 
 
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