Watching the fourth and presumably final installment in the Jackass film series, it’s impossible not to feel concern for the emotional anguish and physical suffering on display. These are God’s creatures, after all, who, for the sake of cheap, vulgar laughs, are forced to engage in nonsensically dangerous stunts that threaten their lives and well-being.
I’m talking of course, about the animals prominently featured in the film, including a tarantula, bear, scorpion, snake, vulture, bull and thousands of bees. Granted, most of them are not the cuddliest of creatures, but they deserve better than this. Your heart goes out to them. As for the human stars, including Johnny Knoxville, who gets into a ring with a charging bull and suffers a broken rib, broken wrist, concussion and brain hemorrhage as a result…eh, not so much.
They’re older, but definitely not wiser.
Since the venerable franchise — which dates back more than 20 years and has included a popular MTV series, several hit films and numerous spin-off projects — hasn’t changed all that much from its inception, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. You either find humiliation, degradation and physical abuse hilarious or you don’t.
That doesn’t mean that Jackass Forever, arriving 12 years after the most recent installment, doesn’t have a new element. Its original featured players have now reached an age where they seem truly vulnerable to lasting damage from the stunts they’re performing. Watching them suffer one bodily injury after another, you find yourself thinking about the tragic fates of too many professional boxers who also didn’t know when to quit.
Knoxville sums up the new film’s ethos in one pithy and very true line. “Twenty years later, we’re still doing the same stupid shit,” he announces while introducing the “Cup Test,” in which the aptly named Danger Ehren endures a series of punishing assaults on his genitalia, protected only by an obviously insufficiently cup. A heavyweight boxer punches them, a softball pitcher hits them with her fastest throws, a hockey player hurls pucks at them, and a man bounces on them with a pogo stick. Ehren looks convincingly anguished as he endures the punishment, while his colleagues can barely contain their glee. “His nuts are bleeding!” one cackles in celebration.
Speaking of genitalia, the series’ fascination with them could provide fodder for a team of dedicated psychoanalysts. Nothing seems to turn on these overgrown male adolescents more than having their penises and testicles exposed and tortured, over and over again. The nut-crushing stunts performed in this edition are far too numerous to describe in detail, but mention must be made of Steve-O, who allows a swarm of bees to sting his nether regions. Indeed, there’s so much full-frontal male nudity on display that you wonder whether the performers are either very comfortable in their masculinity or precisely the opposite.
And let’s not talk about the semen fixation. At one point, a performer is doused in gallons of pig semen. The film begins with a prologue satirizing the Godzilla movies, with the creature played by a green-painted penis that douses its human adversaries with copious amounts of ejaculate. It only demonstrates that in these films, the more a segment is scripted, the less funny it is.
Two of the original crew are not present. Ryan Dunn, to whom the film is dedicated, died in a car crash in 2011, while Bam Margera was apparently not invited to return because of his extensive personal issues. Instead, there are five new members, including Davon Wilson and Eric Manaka, the first Black performers in the series, and Rachel Wolfson, the first woman.
The latter inclusion leads to some “21st century issues”: “I can’t touch your breasts unless you give me permission,” another cast member jokingly comments while preparing her for one of her ordeals. To her credit, Wolfson displays the same fearlessness (or stupidity, depending on your point of view) as her colleagues, gamely engaging in such painful bits as licking a taser and allowing a scorpion to sting her face and lips. Several guest stars are also on hand to allow themselves to be physically punished, including Machine Gun Kelly, Eric Andre and Tyler, the Creator.
It’s particularly disheartening to see Knoxville, who has proven his talent in other projects, still engaging in such tomfoolery. True, he must be very well compensated, and he seems to be enjoying himself heartily. But he’s long past the age when he should be subjecting himself to such stunts as the “Flight of Icarus,” for which he’s shot out of a cannon while wearing wings.
Here, his hair keeps disconcertingly shifting from a natural (flattering) gray to a garishly dyed jet-black, as if physically manifesting his internal struggle between adolescence and maturity. Not that he ever seems mature, as demonstrated by his boisterous delight in such idiocies as Steve-O attempting to light his farts underwater. It’s harder than you might imagine, apparently. “There’s not enough methane in his farts,” someone observes.
Jackass Forever is being released only in theaters, providing the opportunity for its fans who find constant hilarity in its sophomoric antics to share their pleasure with like-minded brethren. The rest of us can only shake our heads and wonder about the future of civilization.