Mini-Reviews: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Counselor
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa:
Bad Grandpa, the newest outing by Jackass star Johnny Knoxville, is about as surreal a movie experience as I’ve had and am likely to have this year. The film is a series of pranks played on passers-by in which Knoxville is a grandfather behaving poorly in public. It’s an 80-minute episode of Candid Camera with far more farts and scrotums. Whether you find it funny or not is ultimately wildly subjective (I found most of it unfunny, though the grandson made me laugh intermittently)… but its “funniness” has nothing to do with the surreal nature of my experience. I couldn’t get past the following: the key to these jokes is the audience never once getting lost in the “characters,” but rather remaining hyper-aware that that is Johnny Knoxville in makeup and we’re watching pranks being played. Yet the film every few minutes or so contains scenes of private dialogue, as if they’re encouraging us to get lost in these characters. The final ten minutes or so actually gets sentimental for its characters, complete with a montage of their fond memories. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why it works so damn hard to tell us a story when the humor requires us to remain removed. Would you ever watch a prank show in which the guys playing the pranks go off and have scenes by themselves, building their characters, tied in no way whatsoever to the pranks at hand? It’s a truly bizarre choice that I still can’t quite wrap my mind around. You likely know if Bad Grandpa will make you laugh or not, and a review won’t sway you one way or the other. I don’t remember laughing much… but I do remember feeling puzzled.
I believe The Counselor is precisely the movie Cormac McCarthy set out to make, a faithfully realized rendition of his script. McCarthy’s outlook is bleak, his dialogue is novelistic and philosophical, and his tone is frigidly cold. Cold, novelistic, and philosophical are usually my bread and butter (see: my review of last year’s Cosmopolis), but excepting a couple of choice scenes and performances, I found The Counselor to be a tough sit– not just due to subject matter, but also execution. With the exception of Brad Pitt, who shines, I felt the actors had trouble balancing the need to find a character with the mouthfuls of dialogue they were sporting. Fassbender as the leading man is, strangely, a blank; intentionally so, yet when all we’re given from our main character is a bad accent and an absence of emotion until twenty minutes before the end, I strained to even remotely engage. Many of the individual monologues are quite lovely, yet when strung together, pacing became an issue, so the film wasn’t just cold, talky, and unpleasant, but also needlessly slow in its unfolding. There is undoubtedly an audience for this movie, particularly those who would simply love to hear McCarthy’s uncompromisingly dark philosophizing read aloud, and that alone makes me tempted to revisit it one day. However, chalk me up as someone who, despite generally digging McCarthy on page, can’t get with The Counselor on screen. Individual elements may shine, but the whole doesn’t add up.