There is a difference in this installment of the Jackass series. Creator Johnny Knoxville and collaborator Spike Jonze have given us an actual character. Instead of a gaggle of cut-ups and clowns crashing golf carts or defecating in showroom toilets, we have an old man (Knoxville in convincing makeup and prosthetics) who is recently widowed (in fact, his dead wife is in the trunk of the car) and whose daughter was just jailed. The old man is forced to drive his grandson from Nebraska to North Carolina to drop him off with his deadbeat father, pranking merrily along the way. Some pranks hit (his uninvited involvement in a male strip show and his being hurled through a plate glass window while astride a kiddie ride), some are okay (a malfunctioning bed that crushes him, a drunken trip thru a drive-up window in a shopping cart) and some are too uncomfortable or disgusting to recapitulate.
Ultimately, like Borat before it, Bad Grandpa is accidentally patriotic. As bad as this grandpa acts, as much as he destroys and mucks up, the tolerance and kindness that greets him is noteworthy. As Christopher Hitchens observed about Borat, whose hijinks were decidedly more cruel and condescending than Knoxville’s shock routine, “Americans are almost pedantic in their hospitality and politesse.”
The patience of the prank-ees in Bad Grandpa is its strongest feature and, for that, we should be thankful.