Movies

They’re Still Here, Thank God: ‘Jackass Forever’ Drags The Boys Into The 2020s (By Their Balls)

To say that I was mildly disappointed in Jackass Forever is true. To say that I spent the entire movie screaming, stomping my feet, covering my face with my hands, and squealing with joy, and would’ve happily sat through another 90 minutes of it is also true. Did we really need for this Jackass to be the “best Jackass ever?” This merely reveals the basic truth that Jackass is still Jackass‘s only competition. I was more than content for the new Jackass to merely be what Jackass has always been: a good hang.

My standard review of Jackass, which also applies here, is “yes.” I have basically an unquenchable appetite for skate bros pranking each other and hurting their dicks, to the point that even when I’m vaguely dissatisfied by a bit, or have nitpicks, my general reaction is a desire for more bits. Do it again! Do it better! Just keep doing it!

It’s been 20 years since the first Jackass movie and a few things have undeniably changed. Ryan Dunn is dead, killed in a fiery car crash in 2011, leaving the gang without a member who would try more or less anything (getting shot with an anti-personnel mine, sticking a toy car up his ass) as long as he could bitch about it the whole time (no one could kvetch quite like Ryan Dunn, just like no one can howl in agony quite like Dave England, who now looks like Tom Petty after a hockey brawl). Dunn’s pal Bam Margera is also gone, falling off the wagon and becoming estranged from the crew. One feels their absence in Jackass Forever, especially in the dearth of Delco accents. But does it make Jackass any less relatable? Any less an expression of the American male id? Who hasn’t had friends die or spiral since 2010?

Johnny Knoxville, who always had a finely tuned cultural antenna, correctly surmised that keeping the Jackass inner circle entirely white and male wouldn’t play in 2022 (even if that perception itself was a bit a of generalization; the gang always had black minor characters and guests). Thus we have some new additions to the gang this time around. There’s Jasper, an ebullient, chubby black guy whose ex-con father, Darkshark, helps fill in the gaps where pranks on the Margeras would normally go. There’s Rachel Wolfson, a cute girl comedian who seems up for anything and wears her smile like a surgical mask. There’s Poopies, a real-life Jeff Spicoli who got his nickname by pooping in the street and seems to have an IQ of around 90. There’s Zach Holmes, aka Zackass, a jolly fat guy who combines Preston Lacy’s girth with Johnny Knoxville’s appetite for masochism. Holmes, raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, throws himself into cacti harder than Ryan Dunn ever did and seemingly without even a moment’s regret. Last but not least there’s Eric Manaka, the crew’s first Englishman.

The new crew fill in wherever a young body feels necessary to a bit, body surfing down massive slip and slides or deliberately wrecking mini bikes and kite surfing rigs, but on balance their presence seems less noteworthy than how intent the almost and actual 50-somethings from the original Jackass crew seem to be on doing their own stunts. There are plenty of times where it feels like if things had gone just a tad differently we might’ve had to watch one of our substitute friends die — usually Danger Ehren, who gets his crotch sniffed by a hungry bear and his crotch stomped by a pogo stick (among other things), but also Johnny Knoxville, who gets his umpteenth concussion from a bull; or really any of the rest of the crew, who all risked death and castration at some point, to varying degrees.

During the run of the original Jackass, we mostly all probably assumed it would be sad to watch 50-year-old men perform these stunts, if we imagined it at all. Yet if anything I wish Jackass Forever had leaned more into the fact that these guys are getting older. There’s one planned stunt, the details of which never become clear, that Preston Lacy spoils through the rather mundane mistake of trying to let slip a fart that turns into a shit. “I should never have had Cuban and Indian the same day!” Lacy yells, which sounds sort of like shtick but I’m pretty sure wasn’t.

I enjoyed this brief foray into more dad-centric stunts, like trying to eat spicy Indian food and not shit your pants, and wished they would’ve done more deliberately rather than relegated them to outtakes. What other foods can’t these guys eat anymore? Who’s taking Lipitor and which of them are on blood thinners? What parts of them are sore now just from sleeping? Just because the stunts are different now doesn’t make them less of daredevils. Show the swelling! The “prestige” of a Jackass bit was always the medical bill

Walking into Jackass Forever was probably the first time I ever genuinely considered a movie being “the movie the world needs right now.” Watching dudes hurt themselves does bring demographics together like few things do these days, and it’s perhaps the only genre of movie or show during which I’ve never paused to look at my watch. And yet Jackass Forever, like virtually everything made during and after the pandemic, doesn’t quite work as pure escapism. Age, it turns out, isn’t nearly as much of a limitation as world events. In the era of COVID protocols, man-on-the-street bits are out, which robs Jackass of a key facet of its appeal. What would the original Jackass have been without rental car workers, uptight golfers, or people just walking by while an impish man in a devil costume exploded from the ground shouting “keep God out of California?”

The square world was always the foil for Jackass pranks. In Jackass Forever that world can only really be hinted at and represented symbolically, and Jackass was never much for hints and symbolism. It feels like they were sort of trapped in a bubble, like the rest of us, forced to play the pranks mostly on each other. In Jackass 3D, the concept evolved more towards elaborate sight gags than stunts specific to pain and danger. Yet even that is slightly muted in Jackass Forever, which I have to imagine was a limitation related to the same supply chain problems affecting everything else. Making Jackass, more so than just about anything, really does take a village, and that village has had staffing issues of late.

Which is sort of a bummer, but as always the gang perseveres, and to watch them do so is no less a triumph. They make do, mostly through more penis and ball trauma than ever before, and literal buckets of pig semen. It doesn’t feel sad or any less potent, and it’s true to the spirit of what Jackass always was: man’s dadaist attempt to find primitivist joy amidst the constraints of modernity. That’s still true, even with some transparent growing pains. When a scorpion lands on Rachel Wolfson’s breast during a bit called “scorpion botox,” Chris Pontius screams that he doesn’t know whether he’s allowed to bat the thing away. “I consent, I consent!” Wolfson howls.

Being afraid to touch a woman’s breast is hilariously Victorian for the Jackass crew, but it’s endearing and somehow cathartic as well, to hear these characters literally shout the mundane confusion we all have about the often blurry rules of interpersonal conduct, on pain of a scorpion sting. Someday maybe they’ll be able to take a power tool to Rachel Wolfson’s labia the same way they make a mini speed bag out of Preston Lacy’s ballsack, and that will be a great day. For now it’s understandable and weirdly sweet that they’d be a little cautious, a necessary transitional stage. The Jackass boys are changing and so are we, and that’s okay.

‘Jackass Forever’ is in theaters now. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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