Jackass Forever (2022)
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Preston Lacy, Dave England, Ehren McGehey, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Spike Jonze
We go to the movies to see things we’ve never seen before, to be taken to exotic locations we can’t even imagine visiting on holiday, to escape the drab or even depressing nature of our day-to-day lives. Together, we have arrived at cinemas en masse to see otherworldly CG spectaculars and big budget action-fantasy crowd pleasers for decades. Jackass Forever is one such film, minus the big budget and fantasy elements, but this isn’t Tom Cruise hanging from the Burj Khalifa or the crew of the latest James Bond film coating the streets of a small Italian village with Coca Cola so they can better perform their latest eye-popping motorcycle chase, this is a group of jackasses putting every body part into every which place they can imagine for the sake of our entertainment. And honestly… pain this hard has never looked so good.
Twenty two years after they debuted on MTV and became almost instantaneous staples of Generation X, the boys are back in town. Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius and company are here to teach us through the medium of their… art?… the important lesson that even in the tough-old-world of social media-fuelled division, and a culture that reinforces individual aspiration over community and empathy, that failing doesn’t have to mean failure. Even when that means allowing a man to jump a pogo stick through your ball sack. Remember kids: these are “trained professionals”.
The formula barely differentiates from the Jackass of old, director Jeff Tremaine returning for a fourth time (after a brief hiatus in which he directed Netflix’s Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt, 2019) to combine the skits and stunts in a vignette-style amalgamation of laughter and suffering brought together by the ever-lovable cast of misfit cool dudes at its heart. In fact, the crew behind the scenes are almost all the same, with puking camera operator Lance Bangs back behind the camera and even heavyweight film writer-director Spike Jonze returning to produce the project after winning an Oscar for his work on the original screenplay of his 2013 drama Her (which was also a Best Picture nominee). For the most part the cast are all accounted for too, though notable by his absence is Bam Margera who was reportedly fired from the film for failing a drugs test, as of course is Ryan Dunn who tragically died in a car accident in 2011 at the age of 34.
In the returns of the now middle aged cast members who once revolutionised low budget television concepts with their almost-illegal “stunt work”, there is a degree of maturity that naturally permeates from Jackass Forever even for a film built on the concept of gross-out boisterous humour and male phalluses. Steve-O, who has spoken openly about his issues with addiction, returns just as goofy and lovable as we’ve all known him to be, but healthier than the drug-addled young man he was in Jackass: The Movie (2002). Meanwhile, the unspoken aura of invincibility that radiated from the group in the early days has long since dissipated, their risky antics bringing more anxiety, pain and regret than ever before, and each of them becoming all the more human for it.
The originals successfully pass the torch to a new generation of jackasses here too, though thankfully in a metaphorical way rather than a literal one, with new addition Zach Holmes (pictured above) being the standout of a new group that feature more as glorified background acts to a blood-soaked, laughter-inducing reunion of frat boys, than the new focus of a project looking to rinse the Jackass name. What could have been a cheap attempt at a soft-reboot is actually a heartfelt renaissance piece reminding us of the simple escapist pleasure of seeing a man getting his penis covered in bees.
There is no doubt that the original Jackass movie, and certainly the series that preceded it, are symbols of a bygone era; one that celebrated vulgarity, so-called “edgy” humour, and what we’d now consider borderline abusive behaviour. In reuniting its cast and crew, a narrow line had to be walked between honourably paying homage to what brought them to the dance and evolving for a new generation in a new political and social environment, and they have well and truly succeeded. Each segment remains gross, funny and/or clever, but there’s just as much joy in recognising the references to decades-old stunts as there is in seeing something more offensive or inappropriate here, and when it does get shocking and gross, it’s clear that measures have been put in place to ensure none of it occurs at the mental or physical risk of anyone else.
In a way, you could say that Jackass Forever is the most wholesome Jackass has ever been. The boys have matured into family men, professionals, while the concepts have moved with the times. Sure, it might be shocking in this day and age to see a film featuring quite so many bare penises or quite so much vomiting, but is that not what makes Jackass so enticing as a concept, this group so famous even to those who haven’t seen their work?
Jackass Forever is the never-seen-before visuals of the best action movies, the big belly laughs of the most effective comedies released in recent years, and the escapist fun of the latest superhero movie. So, while it may not divert much from its formula, and while the constructs of what Jackass is means it will never be an all-out hit with audiences or critics, there is plenty of joy to be had with this 96 minutes of pure escapist, nostalgic fun.
If you’re not already on the Jackass train, don’t expect to board. But if you are, you’ll get all you need and more.
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