The old guys doing human stunts is still fun. The monkey business isn’t anymore.
If you pogo-stick on a professional stuntman’s nuts and he’s old and fragile enough for it to really do some damage, is it still funny?
If he’s a willing member of the Jackass Forever team, yes, it is. That is, if you buy into the enduring central premise of Jackass: doing crude and reckless stuff for no reason but to make your buddies laugh (and laugh, and laugh) is a beautiful thing.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
I come to this review as a longtime fan. The Jackass crew won my heart with “Golf Course Airhorn” in the first movie; they sealed the deal with an elaborate, Mel Brooks-ian tribute to old Hollywood at the end of the second.
In a world where men regularly do stupid things for awful reasons, Jackass has always felt like a positive outlet for dumb masculine energy. I’m very here for Johnny Knoxville’s ambitions to create live-action Looney Tunes. It removes the guilt of laughing at human slapstick like people slipping on the ice by making all of it voluntary. (Except for cast member Bam Margera’s habit of pranking his parents, which is easily the least funny running bit in the series.) Everyone here is trained in how to take a hit, so all’s fair.
As gross as a lot of the stunts are, there’s also always been an essential sweetness in the close-knit bonds of this deranged bunch. Not to mention way less sexism/racism/homophobia than you’ll find in a lot of movies masquerading as higher art forms. And for all its straight-bro dumbassery, Jackass is wildly homoerotic. You won’t see this many guys enthusiastically handling each others’ balls anywhere else outside of gay porn.
Jackass Forever arrives 12 years after the last movie, which really seemed like it ought to be the last. I guess nobody was interested in getting a job that involved fewer head injuries. To their credit, they’ve diversified this time around, adding a couple of younger Black men (as well as, partway through, one of the new guys’ dads) and, shockingly, a woman, the very game Rachel Wolfson. Guests this time around include comic Eric Andre, musician Tyler the Creator and Megan Fox accessory Machine Gun Kelly. (They’ve also dropped Margera, who always seemed like the most mean-spirited of the bunch.) What better time for a new Jackass? Who among us couldn’t use a few more dumb laughs?
I was ready to love it.
But something has soured this time around. For every bit of classic slapstick – a man flung upward into a drop ceiling here, a lube-covered waterslide there – another relies on live animals for laughs. It’s a move that feels downright ancient, like Ringling Bros.-era vintage. Who thinks it’s a good idea to have a bear on a chain in 2022?
I felt queasy about it, and mere hours after I’d seen the movie, stories had begun to circulate about PETA calling for a criminal investigation into their creature-centric stunts. Think what you want about the animal rights people, but they’re not being hyperbolic in this case. (And yes, Jackass’ use of animals dates back to the show’s beginnings. I’ll cop to ignoring my own misgivings for way too long, rationalizing that the animals always came out unscathed where the stuntmen definitely did not.)
The most egregious example here sees Steve-O attracting a colony of bees to a queen hanging in a box on his penis. Stinging ensues, obviously, in the worst of places. The thing is, bees die when they sting. And bees are already having a rough time of it! Of all the stupid things causing enviro-destruction, Steve-O’s crotch has to be among the stupidest. Pity the insects roped into this unfunny gag, and ditto the ones involving the scorpion, giant spider, vulture, snapping turtle, and bear, none of whom signed up for this shit.
The thing is, there are non-animal stunts to love about this movie. Who doesn’t want to see Machine Gun Kelly slapped off a bike with a giant hand? The best bits are, as always, the simplest (and least scatalogical). My favorite, the Marching Band sketch, sees a costumed Knoxville and co., instruments in hand, stepping one by one onto a treadmill running at top speed. Pure physical comedy. One of the guys–Dave England? The dude who calls himself “Poopies”?–does a riff on Knoxville’s classic Cup Test bit, which enlists a UFC heavyweight champ and the aforementioned pogo stick, among other instruments of destruction, to test his testicular stamina.
In one particularly inspired sequence, various cast members are trapped in a dark room; we watch, via night-vision cam, as they encounter old-timey impediments like pushpins, mousetraps and a series of saucepans hanging from the ceiling – not to mention a fake snake. In the “Icarus” sketch, Knoxville puts on a pair of wings and gets shot out of a cannon; it’s a lot more fun to watch than the one where he puts on a magic show for an angry bull.
Jackass Forever could have been a fond farewell to a franchise hanging on way past its prime. But alas, as with so many things I used to love in the early aughts, it’s time to give it up. I wish we hadn’t had to finish on these terms, but I suppose it’s only right to end with a (figurative) gut punch.