Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Cinema File #269: "Bad Grandpa" Review


The now defunct MTV television series Jackass was probably the most appropriately named show ever made, perfect to describe both its stars and its target audience. Arguably born out of the post-Tom Green surge in anti-comedy now infecting so much of our culture from Adult Swim to Nickelodeon, where absurdity for its own sake serves to replace comedy, the people behind this show couldn't even bring themselves to be that clever, settling instead for awkwardness and bad taste as the sole sources for its humor. Produced by the even more appropriately named Dickhouse, now we have Bad Grandpa, a spin-off of the popular Jackass movies inspired by the synonymous series, and if only because I just had to sit through the thing, I really wish I could say that its somehow gotten watchable in the twelve years since the show's cancellation. Goddamn do I wish I could say that.




Bad Grandpa follows the old man character from the Jackass movies who may or may not have also appeared on the show for all I know, on a cross country trip to bring his bratty grandson home to his dead beat dad when his mom goes to jail and can't take care of him. This is of course merely a loose framework to establish a series of gags roughly falling into one of two categories. Literally every single joke in this movie is either a slapstick pratfall where the old man finds himself flying through a store window or otherwise in cartoonish pain, or a hidden camera set up where the old man and or the kid says or does something offensive or in bad taste to elicit a stunned reaction from one or more onlookers. That's it. If you like that sort of thing, you'll get more than enough of it, because this movie has absolutely nothing else to offer. Personally, I felt it got old pretty much before it even started.


Now, I gather most people who go into this movie expecting to be entertained know exactly what they're in for, and they wouldn't bother unless this was the kind of thing that appealed to them. To the film's credit, it does what it sets out to do well I suppose, even if I must question the effectiveness of doing the same thing over and over again even for people who like this style of comedy. If you like the Jackass movies, and particularly the segment upon which this one is based, you'll probably like this, at least for a while, but I have to imagine even the most ardent Jackass fan desires a little variety. Its just so monotonous and bludgeons you over the head with obvious set ups to obvious punch lines that seem to expect you to see them coming, because cringing in anticipation of the fall out rather than being genuinely surprised is the preferred reaction. I don't understand the fandom surrounding this series enough to know if this is too much of a "good" thing, but I suspect given the success of the previous films, it probably isn't.


Given the harsh tenor of this review and my obvious bias, one might reasonably question why I even bothered with Bad Grandpa. It's not entirely unfair, but in my defense I did walk into this movie with at least a sliver of hope that it might defy my low expectations. The odd mixture of improv and scripted narrative promised by the trailer intrigued me, and after finding young Jackson Nicoll to be one of the few bright spots in the otherwise lackluster Fun Size, I was looking forward to seeing him in a bigger role with a few years of practice and maturity under his belt (assuming he's old enough to wear one). His chemistry with Knoxville is actually surprisingly good in the few brief moments where the movie allows them to act together in something other than a stunt, enough that had this been a traditionally scripted comedy following the same characters in the same story, I might have thoroughly enjoyed it. As it is, the growth of their relationship that might otherwise be endearing is never given the time or the space to pay off as it should.


And yet, seeing a little bit of potential in a film that comes together so poorly is almost worse than watching a movie that's just bad from beginning to end. The chasm between everything Bad Grandpa does wrong and the few very briefly touched upon things it could have gotten right in a different context is vast and un-traversable. Admittedly, much of what I couldn't stand is the same sort of crass, hollow garbage I couldn't stand in the TV show and the prior movies, so if you don't share my distaste for this whole formula, you'll almost certainly come away with a different opinion. But even then, you're going to need a bit of endurance to get you through the redundancy after the 800th shocked gasp from one of the film's many victims doesn't quite measure up to your own level of surprise. At the end of the day, I think my biggest problem with this style of film making is that its just lazy, relying on the reactions of non-actors to do most of the work the script should be doing. That is, assuming this movie even needed a script at all.

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