In its latest, and let’s hope last, instalment, the wheezing Jackass franchise attempts its most ill-advised stunt to date: making a movie with a plot, one that wants to both hit you in the groin for laughs and tug at your heartstrings.
Johnny Knoxville, covered in prosthetic makeup, plays 86-year-old Irving Zisman, a bit character from earlier Jackass films. His wife has died, meaning Zisman is free to chase “tail.” Too bad he’s saddled with his eight-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) whom he has to drive cross-country to bring him to his deadbeat dad now that Billy’s mom is in jail again.
Along the way, the two play out such tired pranks from the Jackass repertoire as brazenly shop lifting, flatulating in public and destroying property.
Between stunts, Irving and Billy sit in the car for long, boring stretches of banter. Billy wants to go fishing, and Irving likes to dance to music on the radio. Why keep up the ruse? Does anyone who buys a ticket to a Jackass movie care to see Knoxville emote over the growing love for a grandchild?
There are a few funny set pieces, such as when he and Billy crash a children’s pageant. But for the most part, the gags are older than Zisman and more juvenile than Billy: attempting to flirt with women by using crude, sexual vulgarities, or sitting at a picnic table, more or less begging passersby to admonish Irving for letting Billy drink beer.
At least when Sacha Baron Cohen took a similar road trip across the U.S. in Borat, his shenanigans had a satirical edge, exposing the homophobia, xenophobia and ignorance of many of the people he encountered. Here, the antics come off as gags for the sake of cheap laughs.
In large part, that’s because the crew from the earlier Jackass movies – Steve-O, Bam Margera, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna and the rest of the gang – aren’t here to join in the revelry. And watching this gaggle of moronic manchildren’s gleeful camaraderie is what made previous Jackass films so much fun. And because they were all voluntarily in on it together, whether going at each other with hair clippers or zapping one another with stun guns, it made it easy – and fun – to laugh at them, if not always with them. But when Billy and his bad grandpa prank unsuspecting strangers, it’s simply mean-spirited.
It’s been 11 years since Jackass: The Movie, and three since Jackass 3D, although it feels a lot longer than that. Johnny Knoxville is now 42, and he’s clearly torn. He still wants to be a Jackass, but in a movie with an actual story that offers something even slightly more substantive than cringing at other people’s self-inflicted pain and humiliation.
I suppose he deserves credit for trying, but like Zisman’s wife, it might be time to stuff the franchise into the trunk of an old car and put it to rest.