Oct. 24--For a franchise built on hilarious bodily harm, the "Jackass" brand has proved surprisingly durable.
But having taken the anarchic anthology series about as far it could go -- three seasons on television and three feature films, not to mention countless spin-off series, including Wildboyz, Viva La Bam and Homewrecker -- the minds behind the mirthful mayhem try something slightly different for Bad Grandpa.
The gags are still plenty tasteless, but there's a new ingredient -- heart -- absent from previous installments.
Johnny Knoxville, the well-pummeled face of Jackass, stars as Irving Zisman, a fictional 86-year-old character who has popped up in skits previously.
Newly widowed, Zisman is tasked with transporting his young grandson Billy (an impressive Jackson Nicoll) from his drug-addicted, jail-bound mother in Nebraska to his disinterested, scam-artist father in North Carolina.
The narrative, credited to a screenplay by Knoxville, director Jeff Tremaine and Spike Jonze, is merely an excuse to inject Knoxville and Nicoll into all manner of outrageous situations (most of which can't be detailed in a family newspaper), not unlike Sacha Baron Cohen's similarly pitched and equally unseemly Borat.
Yet, 11 years after the first "Jackass" movie, the whole enterprise doesn't feel as subversive as it once did.
Part of the problem is the country's numbness to reality TV, which was only just taking hold when the "Jackass" series began.
Then, it was easier to bamboozle unsuspecting strangers and get away with it. More than once in Bad Grandpa, there's a sense that those on screen are somewhat aware they're being filmed. As such, a lot of the suspense (and, therefore, the laughs) is muted.
Perhaps the "Jackass" phenomenon has run its course, and something else even more extreme will be along to take its place.
However, Bad Grandpa does manage a few laugh-out-loud sequences, many of which have been spoiled by its advertising. Nicoll, in particular, proves to be an extremely game collaborator, often upstaging his older co-star.
While Bad Grandpa never quite approaches the side-splitting hurly-burly of its cinematic predecessors, the episodic nature of the film also dilutes its emotional impact, and makes the film feel far longer than it is.
The "Jackass" creators, after making audiences laugh at their pain for over a decade, overreach by asking Bad Grandpa's viewers to feel something other than amused.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones
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