The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Bad Grandpa

I can't stop thinking about the elderly couple that walked out of Bad Grandpa after about twenty minutes. Their frustration must have been building from the get-go. I'm not even sure why they showed up for a movie made by the Jackass crew. Perhaps they got it confused with the upcoming Last Vegas and thought they were buying tickets to see Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas whoop it up in Sin City. Regardless, there is a scene in Bad Grandpa set in a bingo hall. The main character, 86-year-old Irving Zisman, tells a bunch of other players that, in the old days, an STD test consisted of having lemon juice squirted on one's privates to see if the person screamed. Irving never screamed, he insists, except for the time the juice ran down into his “bunghole.” He then proceeds to whip out a lemon and squeeze some juice into the front of his trousers, to prove himself disease-free. It was here that the old folks angrily stood up and marched defiantly out of the theater, never to return.

I imagine them complaining to the management for showing such filth and demanding a refund. This will be a story they tell their friends. Can you believe the sick stuff they put in that movie? they will ask. Who in their right mind thinks that sort of thing is funny? Actually, that's a pretty good question. Who does think this Jackass stuff is funny? Well, I do. I'm not sure that I'm proud of this fact, but I won't deny it. And because of this elderly couple, I now think I know why.

Before I get to that, you need to know that Bad Grandpa borrows heavily from the Borat handbook. There's a nominal story about the newly-widowed Irving (played by Johnny Knoxville in convincing old-age makeup) making a cross-country trek with his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll, holding his own like a pro). This “story” is interspersed with Candid Camera-style pranks on unsuspecting real-life people who don't know they're in a movie. There's a prank about poop, several in which Irving appears to be creatively injured, and a ton related to exposing his scrotum. In fact, Bad Grandpa probably sets the world record for scrotum gags. Other jokes involve putting Billy in mature situations, such as having him bang on the door of a strip club to ask the bouncer if his grandfather is inside. The ending centers around one of those obnoxious child beauty pageants, and it's borderline brilliant how the sequence is crafted to shock stage parents who sexualize their young children by showing them a sexualized child.

I can't honestly say Bad Grandpa is a “good” movie. Then again, it ain't about good, if you know what I mean. This film made me laugh – hard. More than once. I laughed at the poop, and the injuries, and most of the exposed Irving scrotums. I laughed at Billy saying and doing things that are wildly inappropriate for a child his age. Driving away from the theater and thinking about that elderly couple, I know why I laughed, and why I laugh at all the Jackass stuff. The things Knoxville and his co-conspirators do prove that there are still taboos to be broken. We live in a time when almost anything goes. We're jaded. We've seen it all. And yet...a few things still have the power to take us by surprise or make us uncomfortable. Comedy is all about the unexpected. Nothing is funny if you see it coming. The raunchiness of Bad Grandpa's humor is predictable, but its delivery is not. The film jokes about something off-color, and then you laugh because you can't believe they went there. Not only do they go there, they go there proudly.

Will this be for everyone? No, of course not. Will it be for people who take glee in Knoxville's cheerfully adolescent hijinks? That's a big fat Yes! Thank goodness comedy still has the power to make us confront the stuff decorum tells us to avoid. I, for one, am pleased to live in a world where hearing the word “bunghole” can send someone sputtering out of a cinema in outrage.

( out of four)

Bad Grandpa is rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

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