‘Jackass Forever’: Now that cringey stunts are everywhere, the original shtick lacks kick
While some of the new antics of Johnny Knoxville and crew are hilariously creative, they won’t win over anyone tired of watching the pain.
“Twenty years later, we’re still doing the same stupid s---.” – Johnny Knoxville in “Jackass Forever.”
If you’ve remained a superfan fan of the “Jackass” franchise through the decades or you just started digging the crotch-busting antics of these cheerfully dopey maniacs, you’re probably going to love the first stand-alone “Jackass” movie in more than a decade. It’s an R-rated medley of wincing, cringing and screaming volunteer patsies sustaining all manner of cuts, bruises, stings, bites, welts and blows to the head (and elsewhere) in the pursuit of memorable crash-landings and giant laughs.
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Jeff Tremaine. Rated R (for strong crude material and dangerous stunts, graphic nudity and language throughout). Running time: 96 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.
If, on the other hand, you’ve grown tired of this type of don’t-try-this-at-home shtick, you’ll give “Jackass Forever” two stars.
I’ll freely acknowledge laughing out loud at the sheer madness and twisted creativity behind certain stunts, e.g., when Knoxville dons Icarus-like wings, is loaded into a cannon and shot into the air, flying too close to the sun before he flops into the water like a bird shot out of the skies. I was also impressed by the psychological underpinnings of a bit titled “The Silence of the Lambs,” in which the clueless targets are locked in a room and plunged into utter darkness, at which point Knoxville and colleagues, wearing night vision goggles a la Jame Gumb in “Silence,” torment them by simulating snake attacks, directing them into another room where they’re smacked in the head with pots and pans, and even leaving dozens of mousetraps on a table. It’s cruel and it’s stupid and it’s undeniably fascinating and also funny.
Kudos as well to the camerawork on “Jackass Forever,” and I’m not kidding. These brave camera operators have to get in really, really close on some truly horrifying visuals, e.g., the exposed genitals of some guy whose exposed genitals have just survived a visit from hundreds of bees or the aftermath of a slap shot to the crotch delivered by an NHL player. The slow-motion replays of certain stunts are also impressive, as we see the bone-rattling, skin-jiggling, welt-inducing consequences of various stunts in excruciatingly precise detail.
The downside? There’s only so much entertainment value to be mined from watching these Jackasses moaning and screaming as they get slapped and punched all over the place, whether they’re jumping into a pile of cacti, receiving the worst wedgies in human history or getting doused in horrific fluids, smacked in the testicles, smacked in the testicles again, smacked once more in the testicles and then there are more vignettes of guys getting smacked in the testicles. (Longtime “Jackass” veterans including Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man, ChrisPontius and Dave England are joined by a next-generation group including Zach Holmes and Rachel Wolfson, but the younger millennials get only a few moments in the spotlight, while the old schoolers carry the brunt of the punishing load.)
In what is arguably the most violent and stunning “bit” in the movie, Knoxville gets flipped hard by a bull, flying into the air and coming down with a resounding thud. Cut to Knoxville getting wheeled out of the hospital as we’re told he sustained a broken wrist, a broken rib and a concussion. This man is 50 years old and has three children. He told Howard Stern he sustained a brain hemorrhage and has dealt with depression and cognitive difficulties in the aftermath of this stunt. That’s not shocking and hilarious, it’s sobering and sad.
There’s no denying the cultural impact of the “Jackass” franchise. For better or worse, the original group spawned a whole generation of wannabe stunt performers who jump from rooftops into swimming pools, hang from buildings, smack each other with plastic garbage cans, etc., etc., perhaps in the hopes their YouTube or TikTok or Instagram videos will make them famous. If it can happen to Steve-O, why not Jim from Indiana or Sean from Dublin?
Maybe that’s the underlying problem with “Jackass Forever.” Sure, these guys now have a budget to work with and they can pull off some elaborate stunts, but we’ve seen so much viral, backyard Jackassery through the years, the shock value has dissipated and all that remains is the cringe factor and a growing feeling of restlessness as the gags become repetitive and tiresome.