Filled with lewd and puerile stunts and pranks, the latest 'Jackass' film is exactly what it promises to be — and also surprisingly sweet.
February 03, 2022
Older men, same ol' tricks and dicks: that's Jackass Forever. The fifth film in the prank-fuelled TV-to-movie franchise isn't afraid of letting it show, either, just as it's never been afraid of flashing around male genitalia. No one in Jackass' crew of comic daredevils is scared of that much — or, if they are, they're more frightened of not challenging themselves alongside their buddies — so the proud and purposeful attitude flaunted in the flick's title and usual formula is thoroughly unsurprising. Twenty-two years have passed since Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Dave Englund, Wee Man, Danger Ehren and Preston Lacy first turned outlandish stunts and practical jokes into an MTV hit, but age hasn't wearied their passion or camaraderie. It also hasn't dampened the gang's fondness for showing their junk, but there's something sweet here among all the penises: the fact that time inescapably passes but doing stupid shit with your mates sparks immortal joy.
Jackass Forever is stupid, because the kinds of gags that Knoxville and company love are profoundly idiotic — including the film's opening gambit, where a green Godzilla-esque creature tramples a city but it's really Pontius' package painted like a monster. Also inherently silly: using the cast's bodies to prop up skateboarding ramps, a Knoxville-hosted game show that penalises wrong answers with a whack to the sack, exploding a port-a-potty while Steve-O is using it and a contraption made of harnesses that simultaneously gives three people wedgies. The ridiculous bits go on, including lighting farts underwater and drinking milk on a moving carousel to the point of vomiting. Another reason that Jackass is forever for this troupe: they're still as juvenile now, even though they're all over or approaching 50, as they ever were.
Describing Jackass' risky skits and scenes never comes close to watching them, but how funny anyone finds this franchise depends on individual senses of humour and, sometimes, upon your mood on any given day. Regardless, there's always been an art to its follies, as captured on camera by Jeff Tremaine, the series' longstanding director, and also its co-creator with Knoxville and Her filmmaker Spike Jonze. Jackass' slapstick credentials carry on the traditions of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and The Three Stooges, but lewder and grosser, obviously. The saga's commitment to documenting not just the stunts and pranks themselves, but the setups, attitudes in advance and reactions afterwards — the key interplay between its perpetrators, victims and spectators, too — also sees it deconstruct the brand of comedy it sports as it goes. These sense-defying jesters show their working, in other words, and share the thrills it inspires. No wonder they don't ever want it to stop.
Mortality does hang over Jackass Forever, however, as seen in a number of ways — starting with Knoxville's grey hair. It isn't always so strikingly silvery, and he's also shown talking about not wanting to show his bald spot, which Jonze then rushes in to cover with black spray paint. But when the crew's ringleader does let his wintry-hued tresses show, it's the best visual representation possible of how these guys will be adoring all things Jackass till they die. Well that, and the plethora of injuries suffered, including Knoxville's concussion, brain haemorrhage and bone fractures from a bull stunt. Jackass' ridiculous men can't escape the passing years and its impact upon their bodies if they wanted to, but it clearly makes them savour what they're doing.
Indeed, also prominent this time around is the sense of gratefulness that they're all still able to give Jackass another whirl, a feeling deepened by the film's dedication to former co-star Ryan Dunn, who was killed in a car crash a decade back. It's been 12 years since Jackass 3D, although we all know that pop-culture hits never die — and, in this case, the brand even manages to survive 2013's hidden-camera comedy Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa — but making this movie with so much of the OG cast definitely isn't being taken for granted by anyone involved. Plus, that aforementioned sweetness also filters through in the kindness and support the gang show in the moment here, even while devising the feature's torturous scenes, egging each other on and clearly enjoying seeing their pals squirm. They're all in it together, even if Ehren does seem to take the bulk of the movie's physical punishment.
A new roster of talent joins in as well, but bringing in Sean 'Poopies' McInnerney, Zach Holmes, Jasper Dolphin, Eric Manaka and Rachel Wolfson — Jackass' first female member — isn't about passing the torch. It's about sharing, as the regulars also do with celebrity guests such as Eric Andre, Tyler the Creator and Machine Gun Kelly. Jackass has always had a hangout vibe and a more-the-merrier attitude to its dangerous displays, after all. Dispiritingly, the latter also applies to too many Jackass Forever bits that rely upon animals, including Wolfson's lone solo segment, which are the kinds of jokes that not just this comedy brand and its pranksters but the world in general should've outgrown by now.
Perhaps Jackass sticks to its critter-centric jokes for the same reasons it keeps giving cinema as much male nudity as it can: its ageing daredevils just aren't interested in new tricks. Instead, they want to have the same stupid and needless fun they've always had — because no one needs to either participate in or observe any of Jackass' pranks — purely for the sake of it. You can read in plenty of meaning along the way, including the ultimate manchild schtick, performative toxic masculinity and bromance (and, here, mid-life crises as well). Also, laughing along with every setpiece, simple and elaborate alike, is far from a given. But Jackass Forever still makes its audience appreciate its lust for life and rage against the dying of the light, and its cast's undying affection for their always-immature gambit, as well as their willingness to be jackasses purely to get each other and the world chuckling.