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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Review: ‘Jackass Forever’ dazzles and nauseates

The newest film in the series is among the best

By JACOB ANDERSON — arts@theaggie.org

Content warning: Some of the topics discussed in this article may be sensitive to readers.

The fame of the first few “Jackass” movies seems quaint now. Besides presenting theatrical audiences with a smattering of events dangerous, crude and extraordinary, the films have strangely prefigured the type of content that would eventually prove to dominate large parts of the internet: gregarious personalities smashing one another in the nuts, electrocuting themselves or ambushing their portly parents with live alligators. Stuff of that sort. The antics that go around in a “Jackass” film resemble the type of thing that — in a less produced, organized form — might sit comfortably on YouTube alongside a view count in the single-digit millions.

It’s somewhat anachronistic to see one of these movies in theaters, then, two decades after their invention, in a world where its content has already borne another generation of itself online. It’s like seeing adult films in theaters well after the dawn of home video. And like vintage adult films, the primary difference between it and its internet children is that the former has a professional pretense: an opening scene to introduce the characters, a coherent logic of assembly, professional (or at least semi-professional) lighting, editing and directing. But in spite of that pretense, largely what people are coming to see is the “meat” — the intimate, embarrassing bodily interactions of performers willing to denude themselves for the world.

This comparison shouldn’t be misconstrued to suggest that “Jackass Forever” is pornographic. It’s (mostly) not, but there is something sort of instinctual or libidinal about how it’s enjoyed. When a cast member lets a wild animal bite their penis, the audience seizes in belly laughter that originates in parts of the brain that the conscious mind has no power over. That’s what it feels like, at least. This type of humor, which may as well be called “body humor,” bears little resemblance to the type of comedy one expects to see at a commercial theater and tends to elude intelligent discussion. After all, it’s difficult to sound smart when discussing the appeal of watching strangers drink glasses of pig semen. Whether it can be made intellectual or not, the appeal is indisputable: Few other movies come to mind after which, when leaving the theater, one hears complaints of facial soreness from laughing too much.

One ingredient that places “Jackass” in a position above the viral videos that share its core appeal is the fact that, despite its violent, often revolting nature, the series manages to pretty much avoid feeling mean-spirited. “Jackass Forever” in particular — despite some of the most heinous pranks and probably the worst on-screen injury in the series’ lifetime — makes every pointless danger and mutilation feel like a triumph and a celebration of the joy brought by the series hitherto. Helping to create this impression is the clear reverence with which the new cast members treat “Jackass,” brandishing tattoos of the iconic skull and crossed crutches and being heard just out of frame chatting about how excited they are to injure themselves for the film. One might be uneasy at hearing the news that younger faces have joined the crew (despite how justified the move is — just look at Johnny Knoxville’s completely white, wizard-like hair), but all the new additions prove worthy of the mantle.

And anyway, it’s not just the new cast members. The film itself is saturated with an almost religious energy. Everyone’s at the peak of their game; the stunts are more intense than ever before, despite all the returning stars hovering around 50 years of age — a dubious stage of one’s life to be getting hit in the nuts as a profession. The new film is no worse for the cast’s age, and in fact, this may be the best “Jackass” yet, with the possible exception of the second film.

Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org

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