By: Sam Fatula
What hasn’t Johnny Knoxville done to get a laugh out of people? From running around blindfolded in a bull’s pen to playing in a ball pit with an anaconda, Knoxville’s antics have ranged from modern transcendentalism to absolute insanity. The stunts, laughs and controversy that have been prevalent since Knoxville’s early days on MTV reveal themselves again in Bad Grandpa, released Friday.
Despite the comical trailers that some might have seen in anticipation of the film, Bad Grandpa begins on a rather somber note.
The main characters of the film, 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Knoxville) and his eight-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll), start the movie off facing issues of abandonment and death. Zisman’s wife of 40-plus years has recently passed away and Billy’s mother is being sent to prison for possession of illegal drugs. Despite these tribulations, Zisman appears to be relieved by the fact that he can part from his wife in order to enjoy his time with another woman, preferably a younger one.
Unfortunately for Zisman, his quest to find another companion(s) is cut short immediately after his wife’s funeral, as he is asked to take care of his grandson, Billy, because his mother is incarcerated and his father lives across the country in North Carolina.
Zisman’s reaction to this news is nothing short of pessimistic. As he does his best to strike a deal with Billy’s deadbeat father, the two take a cross-country road trip to meet up with Billy’s father in North Carolina, with some hilarious pit stops along the way.
This part of the film is where Knoxville’s past experiences from his MTV days really comes into play. Many of the scenes that involve Zisman’s and Billy’s travels include multiple sexual innuendos and attempted stunts that appear to be accidents in the eyes of innocent bystanders, ranging from Knoxville flying through glass into a department store to forcing Billy to put on a wig and participate in a beauty pageant, with hopes to win the $500 prize. The amount of startling events that surround every scene in this movie is absolutely ridiculous, but makes it that much funnier when you see the state of shock in the faces of passers-by.
Not all stunts go according to plan, though. But with the excellent makeup and acting from Knoxville and Nicoll, the unfortunate bystanders never know that it’s a fake situation.
What might be the most surprising aspect of the movie was how Nicoll was able to remain in character for all of the scenes, especially for such a young age. There are numerous scenes where I was tearing up from how ridiculous Knoxville acts, even in public settings, but Nicoll kept his composure as if he was actually dealing with his grandfather.
In spite of some hilarious moments in Bad Grandpa, this movie may not be for everyone. If you are familiar with Knoxville’s films, you can make some assumptions of what you are going to see: a lot of violence, sex and stupidity. That humor is just not everyone’s type and might be perceived as being childish, or overly controversial. The music also takes a backseat in the film as well. While the tracks are mainly upbeat and fun, nothing really stands out about them that are noticeable. The plot of the film is nothing original either; a cross-country journey where opposites attract with a feel-good ending.
Even though this type of plot has been done before in film, it has never been done in a candid setting. With the amount of preparation and dialogue that went into Bad Grandpa, it’s definitely the best and most appreciated film Knoxville has done.