Unlike its predecessors, Bad Grandpa attempts the franchise’s most daring stunt of all: telling a story. But only barely; while the narrative here serves its purpose — as a framework for a succession of Borat-style bad-taste bits — it is as minimal as allowed.
That it also is the funniest film of the year (until Anchorman 2 opens) is icing on the cake. (Note: Never accept cake from the Jackass crew — no telling what’s in the batter.)
Again donning layers of convincing makeup, Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville revives the character of dirty old man Irving Zisman. When the 86-year-old learns of his wife’s passing, his reaction is pure delight, being free to pursue a shopping spree for nookie.
Before Irving can go prowling, however, he has a funeral to hold. There, his crack-whore daughter (Georgina Cates, Clay Pigeons) leaves him with his 8-year-old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll, Fun Size). Because she’s headed back to jail, she needs Irving to take Billy cross-country to his deadbeat, drug-addled dad (stuntman Greg Harris).
Along the way, Irving and Billy stop at diners, motels, bars, shops, parks and other heavily trafficked places where Knoxville can screw with members of an unsuspecting public through raucous, red-band pranks verging on performance art. Often built upon the premise of causing bodily harm to the wiry, wily senior citizen, they include being catapulted through a store window and being folded in half by an errant adjustable bed.
Others are more elaborate and will work best on moviegoers as in-the-dark as the real people whose stunned reactions register as priceless. Two sequences in particular made me laugh so hard and at such length that tears followed, as did a lack of oxygen, to the point I feared losing consciousness.
Always willing to put injury before vanity, Knoxville disappears into the role in a way he hasn’t done before with Irving. Perhaps not seeing Knoxville out of character until the end credits helps, but once the kid gets in the picture, it’s easy to cease thinking about Knoxville at all and instead view Irving as a flesh-and-blood man one hopes is enrolled in a damn good Medicare supplement.
While regular Jackass director Jeff Tremaine and his co-writers — critical darling Spike Jonze among them — may be feeding lines to Nicoll via earpiece, delivery is as vital an ingredient in the recipe of comedy, and the boy is already a pro at 9. If Paramount Pictures wants a Bad Grandpa 2 — and it should, given how insanely profitable this candid-camera project will be — the studio must fast-track it before Nicoll grows out of his chubby innocence.