The Jackass movies – there have been four in all of the main series – are probably the most review-proof films one can imagine. The bottom line: you are either going to find them funny, or you won’t. Each film represents a series of comedy stunts, pranks, and pratfalls, performed by the same cast of comedians and skateboarders. They are episodic in nature, so there is no narrative to discuss. There are no broad themes to consider. Each cast member’s inclusion in the franchise is based as much on their willingness to injure themselves as it is to be significant comedy talents.
The entire affair came about through a confluence of independent projects, shepherded into one unit by filmmakers Spike Jonze and Jeff Tremaine. It was a short-lived television project before jumping to MTV Films. Collectively the four main films have grossed more than US$400 million. Jackass Forever, released 12 years after 2010’s Jackass 3D, is the most recent.
It is a weird pop culture phenomenon, and I suspect would never have found the audience it did were it released any later. The original MTV series premiered in 2000, five years before the launch of YouTube. Nowadays one can watch a seemingly endless parade of ‘fails’ online for as long as they wish to. The idea of a group of stunt artists and comedians undertaking their own deliberate mishaps for laughs, and having them both broadcast on television and distributed in cinemas, only makes sense before the masses started providing their own for free. That said, the one advantage of Jackass is that everybody involved knows what they signed up for; there is no problem laughing at another’s misfortune if they have given you permission to do so.
There is a strong sense of school reunion about this new film. The original cast mostly return, including Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Preston Lacey, and Jason Acuña. The absence of former star Ryan Dunn is keenly felt – he died in a car crash in 2011 – as is that of Bam Margera – whose forced removal from the new film is still subject to ongoing legal action. Both were major personalities in the original series and films, and without them Jackass Forever feels a bit like a rock band reunion without its lead guitarist. A number of new performers take the pressure off the middle-aged originals, but sadly do not make anywhere close to the same impact. Like many productions, Jackass captured lightning in a bottle with its original line-up. Keeping the franchise going with the new talent is likely going to be a struggle – although it’s commendable to see a woman featuring for the first time, with stand-up comedian and podcaster Rachel Wolfson licking tasers and getting stung in the face by scorpions.
The use of animals in the creation of comedy stunts continues to be a problem. A note from the American Humane Association during the closing titles promises no animals were harmed, but there is still clearly a lot of stress and discomfort placed on a variety of arthropods, reptiles, and mammals throughout. It’s unnecessary, and rarely leads to sketches any better than the ones performed without them.
You either enjoy Jackass or you do not, and correspondingly if you enjoyed the earlier films and episodes you will likely appreciate the new movie. It’s a little older and grayer, not much wiser, and maybe just a little tired – but if you’ve come this far then it’s certainly a sufficiently funny epilogue.