Johnny Knoxville and the gang may be greyer, saggier, and fatter, but their unquenchable thirst to debase themselves for our enjoyment continues unabated.
As the old adage goes, “With age comes wisdom.” But as Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, and the rest of the Jackass gang have refreshingly proven, sometimes the best way to stay forever young is to just stick close to your childhood buddies and keep doing the same dumb shit to each other over and over again. And since Jackass aired its first episode on MTV in 2000, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing, finding ever more creative ways to kick themselves (and each other) in the balls, sic wild animals and insects on them, and generally flaunting the rules of polite society and personal safety. With Jackass Forever, the fourth anthology movie in the series, Johnny and the rest are a little older, but no more wiser, and we’re all the more thankful for it.
Luckily, Jeff Tremaine‘s fourth film is hardly ignorant of the fact that everyone’s a little bit older and grayer; depending on the date of the shoot, Knoxville’s hair is either a shock of grey or dyed black (“You didn’t film my bald spot, did you?” he jokes to the cameraman at one point, before turning to put it on full display). Steve-O flashes his new pearly whites and his more weathered, but clean look (good for him, by the way); Preston Lacy heaves with the fatigue that comes with age. But while their bodies are starting to fail them, their mindsets are trapped in perpetual adolescence, cackling with glee at each new prank they pull on one another. And of course, the gang’s not all here anymore; Ryan Dunn tragically died in a drunk driving incident in 2011, and Bam Margera is conspicuously missing (all signs point to a falling-out).
But to fill the gaps in their coterie, and to not-so-transparently pass the torch to a new generation, we’re introduced to a new set of Jackasses in the now-ubiquitous gonzo opening sequence — in which a scale-model city and its denizens are terrorized by a lizard-like monster consisting of Chris Pontius’ cock and balls, painted green and puppeteered by co-creator/producer Spike Jonze. They’re a fine bunch, though some get more spotlight than others: Zach Holmes’ obesity is played as a sick joke that he nonetheless leans into, and one new guy (nicknamed “Poopies”) seems destined to be the group’s new punching bag, which is saying something considering they’re all each other’s punching bags.
Contrast that with the women and Black members of the crew, including the absolutely fearless Rachel Wolfson and the severely underused Eric Manaka, though, and it feels like the gang still hasn’t quite figured out how to break its white-boys-only club. (The exception, of course, is Jasper Dolphin, who has a grand old time roping his dad, a no-nonsense ex-con named “Dark Shark,” into the crew’s exploits.)
And what exploits they are, Tremaine hardly letting his foot off the gas as old and new gang members hurt and humiliate themselves for our (and each other’s) enjoyment. As these things go, the batting average is pretty on par with other Jackass films. There are a few gags that absolutely kill, some that elicit decent chuckles, and others that just feel disappointing. The latter feeling largely applies to the reprises, like an aquatic redux of the giant spring-loaded Hand Slap faceoff between Steve-O and Machine Gun Kelly, the latter a bit too self-serious to really gel with the others. We also get another Bad Grandpa reprise with Knoxville’s elderly Irving Zisman, but it’s a bit anticlimactic.
The reprise that works best, though, is Danger Ehren’s reprise of the “cup test” from the first early days of Jackass, in which our resident mohawk-haver sees his junk just obliterated first by a heavyweight champion boxer, then a women’s softball champ, leading all the way up to slamming his dick with the business end a pogo stick. In Tremaine’s super-slo-mo camera, you can see the moment that Ehren sees the face of God. (I’m almost positive half the things that happen to genitalia in this movie are outlawed by the Geneva Convention.)
Knoxville remains the cackling ringleader of this band of misfits, but leaves that position of power by always reserving the craziest stunts for himself, like a new go-round with a bull that lands him in the hospital. Midway through the film, he launches himself into the sky like a human cannonball, evoking the myth of Icarus, a man who fell to his death because he wanted to fly. Isn’t that Jackass in a nutshell?
But that’s always been the appeal, hasn’t it? Beyond the immature frat-bro mayhem of the Jackass franchise has been a transgressive search for immortality, their antics scratching the same itch as watching Buster Keaton climb a tall tower in Safety Last! or Evel Kneivel jump over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle: we’re never going to live forever, so we might as well throw caution to the wind and confront death and pain head-on. And you might as well do it for the noblest reason of all: putting a smile on your close friends’ faces.
Now that most of the gang are in their fifties, and some of them are no longer with us, that specter of death looms closer to them than ever before. Why not spend your remaining days covering your buddy’s crotch with meat and letting deadly bears and vultures gnaw at the goods? It’s that bizarre sense of warmth that overrides the outrageous feats of endurance on display to keep Jackass Forever feeling as buoyant as Preston Lacy’s nutsack.
Jackass Forever tases you in the balls and catapults you into theaters February 4th.