Machine Gun Kelly, left, Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O in Jackass Forever (Paramount Pictures)
Roger Ebert once refused to give a star rating to the John Waters movie Pink Flamingos because, as he wrote, “It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object.” That standard seems to apply to all of the movies in the Jackass series, including the latest and possibly last entry, Jackass Forever, in no small part because they share a similar shock value and willingness to entertain the audience through a sheer gross-out factor. How does one judge the merits of a movie that is a series of extended pranks and stunts that test the limits of the human body? It’s hard enough to compare films as disparate as The Power of the Dog and Spider-Man: No Way Home and Summer of Soul, for example, but one can at least find some commonality of purpose among them, and that doesn’t exist with Jackass Forever. This series is almost by definition a tautology: a Jackass movie is a Jackass movie, and nothing more nor less.
Johnny Knoxville, the ringleader of the Jackass crew for over twenty years, returns to the role ten years after the last film, alongside familiar faces like Steve-O, Chris Pontius and Wee Man as well as a group of younger Jackasses. There is no narrative to the film, which is a series of stunts in which the participants either risk injury, endure pain or are just tortured by Knoxville. It’s gross, it’s shocking, and it appeals to those who enjoy humor that balances between the cruel and the scatalogical. To once again return to a tautology: for people who like the sort of humor that Jackass dabbles in, this is the thing that they will like. What Jackass Forever should really be compared to is not other movies, but watching a sport: there might be better basketball games or tennis matches than others, but people generally know whether watching a sport is their sort of thing
The sports metaphor also works for Jackass because, if the movies are about anything, they are about testing the limits of the human body in ways that the average person either cannot, or in the case of many Jackass pranks, will not endure. The members of the crew subject themselves to stings by bees and scorpions, they place some very sensitive organs into vises, and they take monumental risks with their safety. If there is a complicating factor that Jackass Forever adds that previous films in the series do not, it is that the core group of the Jackass crew (and how should they be defined, really: are they actors, comedians, stuntmen, or perhaps the modern version of a circus geek?) are now older. They’re now well into their forties or beyond, and the subtext of the movie seems to be that their bodies can’t withstand quite as much as they did when these guys were twenty-five year olds, but they probably shouldn’t have done it then, either. It’s a very typical Generation X approach to aging that straddles the line between stoicism and cynicism. To use that generation’s defining word: whatever.
As the ringleader and the strongest personality from the series, Knoxville shows demented glee in some of the sequences, particularly one inspired by a scene in The Silence of the Lambs (fortunately, it’s probably not any of the obvious choices to inspire a Jackass stunt). That sequence is the most inventive, and the series of tortures it has for its participants have almost a Rube Goldberg quality. The moment that resonates the most, though, is when Knoxville recreates a prank from the original Jackass series involving a bull, and the film shows the young Knoxville with the older one, side by side. It’s almost a testament to getting older without losing the recklessness of youth. But mostly, the movie isn’t really about anything more than just its gross-out humor and convivial sadism, which will get at least a few laughs out of even the most highbrow among us, even though they might never admit it. Jackass Forever is a Jackass movie and nothing more nor less: a tribute to those among us who may grow old, but will never grow up.
In theaters February 4th
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