"Bad" is really not the right adjective to describe "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa." Words such as "uninspired," "juvenile," "stupid," "slow," "a waste of time" and "lame" are better ways to express the total failure of this latest offering from the twisted mind of Johnny Knoxville.
But what may surprise you is that this film fails not because of the low-brow humor. It's the abysmal filmmaking.
"Bad Grandpa" follows 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Knoxville) as he transports his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), from Nebraska to North Carolina. The youngster needs to be taken to his father when his mom goes to jail on drug charges. Dad only agrees to take Billy because it will mean a monthly check from the government. This family makes the "Jersey Shore" residents look like saints.
Where this road trip takes such a horrible detour is in trying to create a story to link together the "Jackass"-style stunts. "Bad Grandpa" is a hybrid of the wild antics that have made the "Jackass" franchise so popular, and a traditional comedy. That means the movie jumps from heartfelt moments, such as Grandpa trying to explain why the boy's mother doesn't hate him, to scenes of Knoxville wrestling a giant fish that for some reason has enormous human male genitalia. These film styles don't fit together and end up working against each other.
A story also requires Knoxville to act and that's like asking a fish to tap dance. Both flounder badly.
Knoxville is at his best when he's pushing the boundaries of good taste. That's generally funny when he and his merry band of lunatic friends hurt, humble or humiliate each other. But the problem with the gags in "Bad Grandpa" — such as a confrontation when Grandpa decides it's easier to put Billy in a box and mail him than it is to make the road trip — is that the object of these absurd moments are innocent bystanders.
Once the filming pulls in the public, there are certain real world elements that can't be ignored. It's obvious the film crew kept a tight rein on the real setting. But the simple fact no one feels compelled to call the police when the youngster wanders the streets in search of his grandpa makes the targets of the humor look bad.
It's those bad decisions that hurt the movie far more than the crass comedy. Relatively speaking "Bad" is just bad.
"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," rated R for language, graphic nudity, sexual situations. Stars Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll. Directed by Jeff Tremaine. Running time: 93 minutes. Grade: D-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.