JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA
This might surprise a grand total of none of you, but Bad Grandpa - which also goes by the more telling title Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa - isn't much of a movie. The first Jackass release to feature an actual narrative, and actual characters, in place of the usual parades of comically vile, violent challenges and stunts (though there are a few of those, too), director Jeff Tremaine's road-trip slapstick is mostly shapeless and certainly obvious, and nowhere near as hilarious as you want it to be.
Yet it's also a continually interesting and, in the end, rather sweet sociological experiment reminiscent of Borat, but a Borat without the mean-spiritedness. If Sacha Baron Cohen's outing, with its Candid Camera-style employment of "real people" clearly not in on the joke, reveled in displaying how crass and ignorant Americans could be, Tremaine's suggests just how tolerant and polite we can be - and given the circumstances presented here, that's apparently mighty tolerant and polite indeed.
To quickly dispense with the plot, because it really isn't important, Bad Grandpa finds Johnny Knoxville (hidden under impressive prosthetics) playing his familiar Jackass character Irving Zisman, a randy, recently widowed 86-year-old with serious penchants for booze, women, dirty jokes, and letting his (please-let-it-be-prosthetic) junk dangle in places it absolutely shouldn't. Early in the film, his drug-addict daughter arrives with her eight-year-old son Billy (Jackson Nicoll), and - as she's entering, or maybe fleeing, rehab - orders the elderly man to care for the child. That won't do for Irving. So instead, he pops the kid in a car, and the pair (or rather the trio, as the corpse of Irving's late wife is tagging along) embarks on a cross-country trek to North Carolina, where Billy is to be dropped off with his weed-smoking lout of a father.
You get zero points for correctly guessing that our initially wary traveling companions will bond, with Irving eventually melting at the thought of giving up Billy, and the boy learning to appreciate, and mimic, grandpa's abhorrent behavior. You lose points if you guessed that their antics would match the (low) highs of previous Jackasses; barring those in a handful of sequences - particularly a literally explosive one set in the corner booth of a small-town diner - the gross-outs and public faux pas in Bad Grandpa are more mild-chuckle-funny than belly-laugh-funny. But I had a fine time anyway. Knoxville, who never once drops character (the end-credit outtakes don't count), is typically fearless, and he develops an excellent rapport with Nicoll, whose unflappable deadpan is a thing of true comic beauty. Tremaine's entire film would fall completely apart if this gifted youth weren't so stunningly adept at keeping a straight face, and Nicoll is even more endearing - as he's finally allowed to smile - when Billy begins sharing grandpa's love for juvenile pranks. (Bad Grandpa's climactic goof on Little Miss Sunshine, which the beaming Nicoll performs in drag, might be the one time the movie passes judgment on its "supporting cast" of regular folk, but considering those being judged are obnoxious pageant moms and their unbearably precocious spawn, they kind of deserve it.)
And then there are the reactions of those regular folk - judging by the facial blurring, about 90 percent of whom signed release forms - who greet Irving's and Billy's colossally inappropriate shenanigans with frequent horror, yes, but also abundant kindness, and almost inhuman patience. My favorite extras were probably the sweet-tempered UPS ladies who seemed to give actual thought to, at Irving's request, shipping Billy to North Carolina in a box. But they'd have competition in the moving-company employees who helped Irving stash his wife in the trunk, and the woman who nearly had a heart attack witnessing an adjustable-bed fiasco, and the strip-club patrons who didn't flee when Irving danced with his scrotum hanging below his kneecaps; if we learn anything here, it's that there appear to be no limits some will go to spare the feelings of the elderly and the pre-pubescent. Watching this moderately enjoyable yet fascinating film, I was reminded of the famed Anne Frank quote: "In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart." It may not be typical Jackass, but if Bad Grandpa can evoke the spirit of Anne Frank, for Pete's sake, it's gotta be doing something subversive.
Ridley Scott's The Counselor, with its original script by No Country for Old Men author Cormac McCarthy, is a sun-drenched, exceedingly nasty thriller about drug dealings gone awry in and around Mexico, and it feels a little self-conscious - all artfully composed tableaux and conversational portent and poetically (and amusingly) crackpot dialogue that dances around the movie's narrative without ever, exactly, explaining what that narrative is. Yet it's a visually stunning piece of work that keeps you in a state of giddily expectant dread with every scene - initially unclear though its storyline is, the movie should prove terrifically rewarding on repeat viewings - and heaven knows there are worse ways to spend two hours than by staring at the beautiful, and beautifully intense, faces of The Counselor's Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz (truly terrifying), Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. More than half of whom meet fantastically grisly deaths here. Now that's entertainment.