October 24, 2013

Movie Review: Johnny Knoxville shrugged off a lot to be ‘Bad Grandpa’

It's no pain, no gain for the ‘Jackass’ star.

By Chris Lee
Mcclatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 1)

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Johnny Knoxville stars in 'Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa."

Paramount Pictures photos

Johnny Knoxville, with Jackson Nicoll, stars in “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.”

PREVIEW

“JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA,” starring Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll and Spike Jonze. Directed by Jeff Tremaine. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use. Running time: 1:32

And Hollywood came calling to offer Knoxville minor acting gigs in such mainstream films as “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “The Last Stand” opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But “Bad Grandpa” represents a departure for the self-described “half-assed stuntman,” a kind of career shot in the arm.

As far back as 2006, Paramount Pictures, the studio that has theatrically distributed every “Jackass” film, began urging Knoxville to spin off a film centered on Irving Zisman, or “old man” as he’s informally known. The idea was to practical joke his way across the country a la Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character.

But Knoxville resisted at every turn, convinced the hidden-camera prank premise was too thin to support a traditional narrative and cowed by the rough time he was going through personally.

“I couldn’t have done this movie then,” he says. “I was really all over the place, spinning my wheels. I was out in the bars all the time. I wasn’t in the right head space. I couldn’t have written or performed it.”

Added Jeff Tremaine, producer-director of the TV series and all the “Jackass”-branded films: “From a production standpoint, it’s a terrible idea for a movie. On the show, we could wing it. We’d run around and shoot stupid stuff – whatever we could get. Never did it seem like it could sustain a story.”

Around 2008, however, the brain trust at Knoxville and Tremaine’s Dickhouse Productions arrived at a novel conceit on which to hang the “Bad Grandpa” plot line: a travelogue loosely modeled on the 1973 movie “Paper Moon,” starring father-daughter tandem Ryan and Tatum O’Neal on a cross-country odyssey as Ryan’s con-man character attempts to deliver a 9-year-old girl to relatives.

In “Bad Grandpa,” Knoxville’s old man, newly emancipated by the death of his wife, Ellie (a synthetic molding of Oscar-nominated actress Catherine Keener), spews crude but cryptic come-ons to every female within earshot. “I may be too old to stir the gravy,” Irving’s fond of saying. “But I can still lick the spoon.”

He’s the type of unreconstructed old salt to post up on a park bench and share a six-pack of beer with his 8-year-old grandson, Billy. A dirty old man given to public bouts of explosive farting, he’s the kind of guy who accidentally – excruciatingly – gets his “jim dog” stuck in the coin slot of a soda vending machine.

But when Irving’s daughter is jailed on crack-cocaine charges, the scabrous senior is reluctantly compelled to drive Billy (Jackson Nicoll) from Columbus, Ohio, to Raleigh, N.C., into the custody of the boy’s deadbeat dad.

Their grandpa-grandson camaraderie evolves thanks to some “Jackass”-flavored bonding exercises: Irving pitching through a plate-glass window on a coin-operated children’s ride and the old man entering Billy – in drag – into a beauty pageant for preteen girls.

According to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys, “Bad Grandpa” is on track for a strong opening and could take in more than its budget – as much as $35 million – in its first three days.

“When I was doing those bits for Big Brother, I always had hopes. But you can’t imagine this type of thing happening from such humble, idiotic beginnings,” says Knoxville.”

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