There are absolutely such things as critic-proof movies, and Jackass Forever just might be the epitome of the term. From its earliest incarnation as an MTV series that ran for three seasons in the early 2000s and through three feature films (four if you count 2013’s Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa) the premise has always been a simple one. A group of friends engage in antics both dangerous and humiliating in an effort to hurt themselves or others with the only goal being laughter. Prank shows were nothing new, but Johnny Knoxville and friends took things up a notch or ten with creativity, fearlessness, and the singular desire to entertain. More than two decades on, though, the remaining cast is older, grayer, and wis–who am I kidding. These guys are still more than willing to bleed, bruise, and suffer for their and our entertainment, and if that means one of them has to let a sharp-beaked turtle bite his dick so be it.
Coming twelve years after the last official Jackass film, Jackass Forever feels like an opportunity to touch on time’s effect on their aging bodies, but that kind of thoughtful engagement with reality was never under consideration. Instead, the only body touching here comes in the form of hits, falls, electric shocks, bites, stings, and a helping hand getting someone’s testicals through a small hole so it can be punched by pneumatically powered boxing gloves. Two paragraphs in and one of the film’s themes is already clear — Jackass Forever is a sausage fest.
When it comes to dick “stunts” the go-to guys are Chris Pontius, Steve-O, and Ehren McGhehey. The first two proudly display their johnsons at every turn whether to portray Godzilla in the film’s epic opening credits, to flatten it in a plexiglass press — among the film’s most disturbing visuals and one I don’t understand how they bounce back from — or to attach a queen bee to in order to draw the hive to a fleshy new home. It’s hard to say who gets the brunt of it, but McGhehey’s “cup test” endeavors make a strong case as he takes hits to the balls from a heavyweight MMA fighter, a professional softball pitcher, a pro hockey player, and a pogo stick. When that last one pinches his nutsack to the ground beneath? Goddamn you, Jackass Forever, goddamn you.
There may be no real rules for the performers in Jackass Forever — well, aside from the unspoken but most assuredly contracted one stating that no one can prank Knoxville even as he turns the tables (and tasers) on the rest of them with abandon — but gravity hasn’t conceded a damn thing. What goes up comes down, and again and again that’s the cruellest mistress for the “boys” as they slam to the ground after stepping on a blisteringly fast treadmill, splash into the water after launching out of a cannon, crash to the dirt after a high-powered slide, and more. The treadmill gag left a few of them out of commission for quite a while and one of the reasons the filming was stretched over many, many months.
It’s Knoxville who gets fired from the cannon for a bit named after the flight of Icarus, and as one of only a few stunts he actively participates in it’s an apt metaphor for the gang’s natural aging process. The “kids” are all right — minus those who’ve fallen along the way including Ryan Dunn (who the film is dedicated to) and Bam Margera — but while it’s not really acknowledged, they’re not all up for the same shenanigans as they were in their youth. Steve-O is more than willing to endure pain, but he’s noticeably absent from any of the bigger stunts. Other long-timers like Preston Lacy and Jason “Wee Man” Acuña still play along with bits meant to capitalize on their body sizes, but only Lacy seems unhappy about it. While others are most likely “acting” out their fears, Lacy looks genuinely uncomfortable but unable to say no. A bit where he shits his own pants, purportedly on accident, feels instead like an act of desperation to ensure he stays in the final cut.
For all the pain and suffering, the only real/perceived threat for Lacy, and indeed for everyone involved, is that of being forgotten and left behind. There’s little risk of that, though, as the Jackass crew has ensured their place in pop culture history. New blood including Jasper Dolphin, Zach Holmes, Eric Manaka, Sean “Poopies” McInerney, and Rachel Wolfson brings more than just some long-overdue diversity and instead extends the possibilities of where Jackass goes from here. Jackass Forever suggests it can last a long, long time on both goodwill and the desire to see these friends reunite for shenanigans that entertain even as they remind us of simpler times.
The film is undeniably more of the same, quite literally at times as Jackass Forever repeats some stunts and gags from earlier incarnations including human ramps, enormous wedgies, and a bull hit that sends Knoxville flying through the air. That last bit leaves the film’s most famous face temporarily unconscious, but while you can’t help but gasp at the impact it also highlights one area where Jackass could stand to step away from — animal stunts. Sure, the American Humane Society was on hand to ensure the animals were treated right, but physical protections don’t take the creature’s stress into account. I’ll be called soft for this, but intimidating a snake into biting, pressing a scorpion into stinging, and manhandling a spider into biting are all actions forcing them into behaviors they typically only do under duress and/or necessity. Use and abuse the human performers all you want, but maybe don’t tease a bear with salmon and honey and then be surprised when you have to rush in before it eats McGhehey’s face off.
For all the dick mashing, animal encounters, and face-plants that populate Jackass Forever, the film’s best bit avoids them all in favor of good old-fashioned fun. They bring cast members in two at a time to witness someone handling a snake — why these goobers continue to trust anything Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine say is beyond me — but they’re tricked. The real snake is swapped out, the lights go out, and the pair are filmed losing their shit via night vision cameras as they think the snake has gotten loose. It’s playfully erratic and a beautifully crafted gag, and the laughter of all involved is utterly infectious. It’s also a reminder that while the passage of time can get in the way of dangerous stunts, you’re never too old to laugh along with your friends.
Related Topics: Jackass Forever