DIR: Jeff Tremaine • WRI: Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze •PRO: Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine, Derek Freda, Spike Jonze • DOP: Lance Bangs, Dimitry Elyashkevich • CAST: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll
A privilege granted to artists and writers in this country is an exemption from income tax based on the “cultural or artistic merit” of their work, with the sharper legal definition that “its contemplation enhances the quality of individual or social life by virtue of that work’s intellectual, spiritual or aesthetic form and content” or “enhances or intensifies the aesthetic apprehension of those who experience or contemplate it.” The absurdity of such a sanctifying definition becomes blindingly obvious when you see something like Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. My life is not by any meaningful measure enhanced as a result of watching Johnny Knoxville struggle to remove his twanging latex dick from a Coke machine as innocent bystanders wince, laugh or simply try to ignore him. But I did laugh. Big stupid laughs from my big stupid head. Equally, I’m certain that society has not been enhanced by the intellectual, spiritual or aesthetic qualities of seeing Knoxville’s latex-disguise Grandpa shart fake shit onto the wall of a restaurant. Reader, I laughed at that one too.
These scenes of disgusting spectacle are weakly stitched into a unity by a gossamer thin narrative in which Knoxville’s Grandpa character drives cross-country to reunite his young grandson (Jackson Nicoll) with his irresponsible father. The plot is just an egg carton for a series of set-ups in which unsuspecting members of the public have to make shocked faces in reaction to a series of provocative stunts, including Knoxville gatecrashing a Ladies’ Night stripshow with a display of distended geriatric genitalia, or allowing his “grandson” to drink beer in public.
It’s hard to criticise something that resolutely refuses to rise to the bait of even pretending to be art. What I can say, however, is that not all of the stunts have the same ability draw laughs. Knoxville chats up women on the street, but the horny irascible Grandfather is a cliché as old as Zeus himself. As this sort of thing goes, Knoxville has neither the acting talent nor the balls (distended or otherwise) of Sacha Baron Cohen, whose commitment to his larger-than-life characters is both fearless and persuasive. Knoxville’s performance of aging goes about as deep as the latex appliances on his face and hands. This is not a great film, not even a middling one, but, then again, it never tries to be.
When it works it succeeds as forcefully and as ineffably as any work of art could hope to, with no respectable, ennobling means of accounting for its effect. At one point, Grandpa mounts one of those shopping-arcade toy vehicles designed to attract kids and torture parents and is summarily hurled through (what seems to be) a plate-glass window. The audience could see this gag coming a mile away. Nothing or nobody (apart from Knoxville!) was elevated or enhanced. As I laughed idiotically, in the very same row, the reviewer from The Irish Times laughed like he’d just been exempted from income tax.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is released on 25th October 2013