08 February 2022

First Impressions: Jackass Forever

 Ohh....Jackass. I was pretty excited for this one, having been a significant of this series for the past twenty-two years. I was right at the perfect age in High School when it came out and completely bought into the skater culture of the time. It's also the kind of movie that doesn't really get old. People falling down is still funny. Of course, the actors are much older here, but they bring in some new blood. So, SPOILERS here, but let's talk about Jackass and what this film does right and how it whiffs.

No! Not the bees they're in my eyes auuughhh!!

I watched all three previous installments (plus 2.5 and 3.5) in anticipation of this. It reminded me of both how cinematic a collection of random sketches can be, and also their distinctive eye towards nailing iconic shots. Director Jeff Tremaine deserves more credit than he gets for wrangling these insane personalities, but also for his crisp editing, impeccable comedic timing, and a clear vision for where the brand is going. Knoxville adds a lot to this - there's always this Buster Keaton / Looney Tunes element. They go for really classic gags that are typically creative to see on screen. Their improvisation, especially Knoxville and Pontius' was always far, far underrated. They only get one chance to nail a one-liner after an insane stunt. "Is Butterbean okay?" still slays me.

Now, this series obviously being one focused on the most puerile elements of society, but I also really dig how it continuously and effortlessly busts taboos. There is ingestion of fecal matter, interaction with venomous animals, and an extreme amount of nudity. In 2.5 they interact with the Aghori Tribe of India who partake in this to the extreme, cutting themselves, dusting with ashes of dead bodies, and consuming raw and dead flesh. Jackass isn't the Aghori, but it's as close as Western Civilization will come.

Despite all this, though, Jackass in the end tends to be a warm and welcoming place. There is a ]high amount of divergent acceptance, both physically and neurologically going on here, and more than that, the camaraderie always shines through. You see them hurtling their bodies through these insane stunts, but they also capture moments of pain, support, and laughter at each other. It's as if by acknowledging the pranks, stunts, and pain, they are able to express that true love and brotherhood at the end of the day. This is not always true. Also, we'll talk about Bam later.

However, this is still why Jackass stands out and why it's lasted so long. Well, that and Johnny Knoxville's invincible will to push himself far longer and harder than anyone else in the business. But there is such a jovial nature to the pranks, and it's rarely at the expense of the victim. It is far more focused on the person doing the prank, with public embarrassment, taboo-busting, or shock value as the goal. Victims are almost always seen laughing when the curtain is pulled down. Again, this isn't always the case with the cast.

So, let's dive into the fourth movie! Right away something is wrong. Namely, we're missing two of our beloved cast members. Ryan Dunn was killed in a drunk driving accident in 2011. Bam Margera was supposed to be a part of the movie (you can see him in one scene - the band members on the treadmill), but he was not able to submit to sobriety regulations handed down from Paramount and was kicked off set. I want to tackle this head-on.

Losing Dunn was devastating. He was always more of this sidekick character to Bam, but it was fun to watch him (and his beard) grow. He doesn't do too much in Jackass: The Movie (2002), he gets beaten up by a professional Japanese kickboxer, but then isn't all that much of a presence. Until the end, when he does the stunt that even Steve-O wouldn't do and establishes himself in Jackass history forever. After that his presence and confidence increased and you see him as a huge utility player in the group.

Being part of Jackass naturally means you're always teetering on the edge of full-blown alcoholism. It's a crazy environment. You see how much beer they drink on set (most notably in the papercut scene, which I really can't watch. This film adds the Spider-Helmet to that honorable distinction). Steve-O demised and rised, but Bam struggled with addiction before losing his best friend Dunn. That really pushed him over the edge and it's been a difficult recovery. Here is where I'm at - when you watch him in this deleted instagram video, you get his side. It seems like Paramount was setting him up for failure with multiple drug tests and breathalyzers a day, and as he notes, he's not the only Jackass member with substance abuse problems. Nothing seems to be on the side of the addict.

At the same time, he's clearly handling it poorly. He blew up at Tremaine and Knoxville, and seems to be burning the bridges of that great intimate friendship they had had twenty years ago. It's all just really sad and looms over this film like a dark spectre. I kept thinking about which sketches Bam might have done if he were here. The nut-boxing that Preston does seems like a weird choice for him, as he doesn't usually do nut stuff. But Bam does. I'm sure there are others if I looked at it with a clear eye.

Also awkward is the Ryan Dunn tribute. I know they were trying to be touching, but I found it odd they shoved it in at the end of the credits instead of in the movie proper. It just feels like this elephant in the room for the whole movie. They also clearly tried hard to find clips of him that didn't also contain Bam. This put a bad taste in my mouth because it's contrary to everything that made Jackass great that I said earlier. It's ignoring the timeless camaraderie and friendship bonds that made this fun to watch in favor of something more corporate. I recognize that it's more complicated than that, but it was a downer.

Looking back at the other films, I was surprised to realize how commercial this is. That's really weird to say because we straight up see Steve-O's dick covered in bees, but it lacked the gritty edge that the first two movies had. It finds itself in line with 3D (2010), which had these ridiculously expensive phantom cameras that could capture the stupidest shit in slow motion 3D. Sometimes literal shit. This film does find an excellent way of integrating phantom cameras again, although it's not the main gimmick this time. There is a good mix of old and new here, with old stunts updated with a new twist, like Dave England taking a shit at a yardsale or Knoxville doing another 360 with a bull. It's all a lot of fun. And it's perhaps weird to bemoan the era of grainy video cameras, but that level of cheapness always made it feel DIY and home-brewed. I know we're well, WELL past that, but I'm still whining.

This film adds a lot of new cast members and transition is always hard. The CKY crew seems completely burned off, although we do get a glimpse of Raab Himself operating a camera. I didn't spy Loomis Fall, but he's apparently in there somewhere, and they seemed to replace Manny Puig and David Weathers. These were always fun apocrypha to dig into about Jackass. I always loved how close it was to the extreme sports world, with Brandon Novak, Matt Hoffman, and Clyde Singleton showing up randomly. Re-watching the old ones, Matt Hoffman is in a surprising amount of background shots. Some of this is assuredly the loss of Bam, who was a strong connection. Also the world has kind of moved on.

We get Poopie, Rachel Wolfson, Zach Thomas, Eric Manaka, Jasper, and Dark Shark. They are pretty good. I think it's tough because we don't totally know them and we don't really have that history with the guys. Poopie fits in really well, but he doesn't totally have a distinctive sketch. None of them really do. Rachel comes close with her scorpion Botox and positively gnarly silent electricity lick. By the way, I love how Pontius plays the doctor putting scorpions on Rachel's chin, after he fought them the same way when he dressed his face up like a barbarian. There's also a great bit when he asks permission to touch her breast to remove the scorpion. He's just so sweet and earnest.

Distaff counterpart Jackass

I liked Dark Shark as a kind of cameo as Jasper's dad that hangs out and does spider and vulture shit. His death grip of Knoxville is fantastic, like this is finally someone who isn't taking his shit. Same with a brief appearance by Tyler the Creator, who seems to be the only one who realizes that he's about to get shocked as he plays the piano. I didn't realize how much Tremaine worked on Loiter Squad, and yeah, that's a perfect partnership to bring into this fold. Jackass has always been incredibly egalitarian in incorporating its imitators.

Eric Andre appears and seems to be a continuous presence, and even gets some good one-liners, but I was waiting for a big sketch with him. He's the best heir apparent to this world and has pushed Jackass concepts to their natural millennial conclusions. He supposedly might be in 4.5, but I'd take more of him now mixing it in with these guys!

Mostly, I was looking for something distinctive from these new guys. They more or less just seemed like fodder since a lot of the original cast couldn't come back. Everyone always had a role - Knoxville was the leader and chief prankster, and would specialize in stunts. Bam was the whiney skater and Dunn the stealth gnarly sidekick. Pontius loves his dick, Steve-O master of pain and turds that combined taboo with physical feats. Dave England could take craps, Wee Man was a little person, Preston the fatass, and Ehren the whipping boy who could also stealth do some incredible stunts. I know it's really just a new lot of people, but like many modern updates, they had trouble finding their voice amidst the old cast trotting out their tried and true.

The best of this is probably the Icarus. Knoxville so instinctively is able to spread his fake wings at the apex of his cannon launch. It is incredible. I don't know how he pulls this off. He really broke himself on...well, just about everything he did, but it's an amazing sight to see here.

So, let's talk about Ehren McGhehey. He always came off as a huge piece of shit, but it seemed like they really went after him in this movie. The "Terror Taxi" gag was a fun prank on a prank, and it felt like they just rolled with that. Ehren isn't the only one fooled by the Silence of the Lambs bit, which is terrifying, but he's the most canny because they've done this too him before. In the bear bit, it really feels like Knoxville is a psychopath, though, tying him him and shocking him in front of a large bear, repeating over the PA system, "Are you really allergic to bees, Ehren?" as if it had been some great lie. It's haunting.

I hate to say it, but these moments are what pushes Jackass Forever (2022) over the edge into a really, really funny movie. I give it all the credit in the world for creating an experience where I cringe, cover my eyes, laugh, become uncomfortable, and find some genuine shock. It is a real trip. It oddly felt really short, though, despite being the longest of all movies. I think that's because there isn't a high total amount of bits.

For the record:

Jackass: The Movie: 55
Jackass Number Two: 52
Jackass 2.5: 27
Jackass 3D: 46
Jackass 3.5: 44
Jackass Forever: 36

The bits breathe a ton more, though, and more than any other film we see more of the set-up, more of them breaking, more angry call-outs to Jeff Tremaine, and the after-effects of pain. The lack of Bam and Dunn also mean that everyone else gets a lot more time to shine, particularly Ehren, although that's also because he seems to get all the most painful tasks to complete. I wonder if he was Darfing it up every night.

It's amazing to me that the final sketch is Jackass: The Move is more memorable than this one. You can do a lot with a car up your but. The Vomitron that became a paintball war just seemed unconnected and unironic. Normally pranks work because they set the victim up to compound their pain. When Bam and Knoxville dump bees in a limo, they run out in a panic, only to trip on marbles. I don't know. I thought the final bit in 3D was a letdown, too. They needed to up the tension of Steve-O's rollercoaster fear more. Number Two with their huge production number at the end remains the high point of a big conclusion for me, Forever is assuredly anti-climactic.

But I liked this movie! I liked it a lot. It felt good to laugh again and these idiots just felt like old pros the whole time. I'd honestly like to see this continue with the newer cast getting more of a chance to prove themselves. I think Knoxville and Steve-O are done. They just keep breaking too many bones. Knoxville might remain as a ringleader, destroying everyone psychologically. And as we know, Steve-O will outlive all of them.

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