Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville swaggers successfully into leading-man territory with Grand Theft Parsons, a modest indie charmer based on the death of a country rock legend. When Gram Parsons fatally ODs in 1973, his road manager and best friend Phil Kaufman (Johnny Knoxville) sets out to fulfil a promise to burn the singer's body in Joshua Tree National Park. Once Kaufman hooks up with hippy hearse-owner Larry (Michael Shannon), this leisurely paced road-trip is on course to both amuse and affect.
Larry's limited driving skills aren't the only thing our hero has to worry about: in hot pursuit is Parsons' money-motivated ex (Christina Applegate), as well, separately, as his dad (Robert Forster). And then there's the long arm of the law, represented in one of the best scenes by a traffic cop whose efforts to apprehend the corpse-carriers will have your sides pleading for mercy.
While Shannon's character provides plenty of opportunity for stoner silliness, it's clear from the muted opening that Irish director David Caffrey (Divorcing Jack) has more in mind than lowbrow laughs. We're not allowed to forget that this is a story about (literally) going the distance to honour a man's memory; the contrast between Applegate's shrill gold-digging and Knoxville's staunch loyalty is simplistic, sure, but it gets the point across.
Applegate and the typically thoughtful Forster aren't stretched by their roles, but there's an edge of revelation to Knoxville's performance, his Clooney-like charisma suggesting a future filled with more than just extreme-stunt prankery. Jackass worshippers mightn't be thrilled to see their idol holding back his inner imp, but fans of the low-budget indie scene and rock 'n' roll historians should enjoy this unpretentious, sweet-natured take on an incident that already seemed like something out of the movies. Cool soundtrack too, ranging from the Mick 'n' Keith-influencing Parsons to Rolling Stones wannabes Primal Scream.