After three successful feature films, the Jackass gang have added a whisper of a plot to their documentary stunt-mélange formula in their newest offering, Bad Grandpa. This little storyline doesn't get in the way of the dumb pranks, but, for the most part, the jackassery is gentler and less life-threatening than in previous outings.
As Irving Zisman, the story's titular octogenarian, Johnny Knoxville is unrecognizable under tons of makeup and prosthetics. Irving has been tasked with driving his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) cross-country to a deadbeat dad. Using hidden-camera lensing in the style of Borat and Bruno, Bad Grandpa has the duo inflict their stunts on unsuspecting people from Lincoln, Neb., to Raleigh, N.C. Most gags hinge on the shock these individuals express when presented with scatological jokes and dick humor one wouldn't expect from an old guy and an 8-year-old. Only one stunt involves anything as dangerous as hurtling oneself through a plate-glass window. But these exchanges have a softer edge than Sacha Baron Cohen's hidden-camera work. The Jackass cameras tend to capture their subjects' small-minded ways rather than pure astonishment.
In fact, an almost-sweet sensibility emerges by the end of Bad Grandpa. Young Nicoll is a real find: The kid can hold his own against Knoxville's master prankster. Despite its thin narrative thread, the film moves from set-piece to set-piece as Irving and Billy drive from city to city. Some of the jokes are flat-out hilarious, but most are overworked or tepid. Predictably, some of the funniest stuff is in outtake footage shown in the film's closing moments, as well as the Bad Grandpa 1.5 bonus discs that are bound to be available any minute.