Cinema Dispatch: Jackass Forever

Jackass Forever and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by Jeff Tremaine

This was yet another movie pushed WAY back due to the Pandemic, but honestly the kind of thing I want at this point.  Even if things are far from over, we’ve been on a hellacious journey the last two years and a nice little nostalgic throwback like this can certainly lift my spirits; assuming of course they manage to pull it off.  All the Jackass movies have worked so far, but can the formula work even when the gang is within spitting range of collecting social security checks?  Let’s find out!

The dudes who you know and love from the previous film are back once again to do ridiculous stunts and terrifying endurance tests for your amusement.  That’s about all there is to it, and that’s about all there’s ever been to this premise.  Film a bunch of stuff, put it in a decent order, and save something big for the very end.  Despite such a simple formula, is it something that they can pull off for the fourth time?  What new wacky ideas did they come up with in the ten years since the last film?  Will any of them live through this to see Jackass 5, or is this as far as we should push it?

“I’m Jonny Knoxville, and welcome to… Zzz”     “Johnny?  JOHNNY!”     “JACKASS!  What?  What happened?”

This latest entry is everything you would want in another Jackass movie.  Perhaps there is a spirited debate to have over which one is the best and where this one might fall short of some of the others, but there’s nothing quite like Jackass and such an exercise would be to miss the forest for the trees.  Very few movies are as direct with what it wants to do and what reactions it wants to elicit from their audience and even fewer are as good at achieving that goal.  There are certainly problems that have crept into the formula over the years, but the intelligence and grace with which these guys have always brought to these films continue unabated here, and it’s still amazing how they can make poopy pants and broken bones seem like a cozy night with good friends! 

I mean who doesn’t remember their halcyon days of youth where you shot your friends out of a cannon?

Now the thing about Jackass that kind of flies under the radar is how underneath its lowbrow presentation, you’ll find a deep level of sophisticated filmmaking at play if you really pay close attention to it.  There is a cleverness to all of the movies that allow the crass material to rise above what you’d expect and even if you don’t consciously pick up on it, that extra level of care and creativity is what makes this franchise so enduring.  Some of it is definitely just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks, but the best segments have always been the ones that were painstakingly crafted with a lot of moving parts and a clear plan.  They have an eye for not just what would be funny to see, but how to make it play out most effectively for a viewing audience.  The Musical Chairs bit is brilliant in the way that it builds tension to a payoff that is all the more hilarious because of it, and those flashes of genius are peppered through the movie.  The way the camera is allowed to just hang on certain shots to maximize tension, the introduction of random elements to certain segments to add some unpredictability, even the smattering of celebrity cameos that add a tiny bit of gravitas to certain moments in here; it all fits seamlessly together and works just as well here as it did twenty years ago. 

Never underestimate the terror and destructive power of a chair!

The fantastic filmmaking is only half of why this franchise has worked despite itself.  What takes this series from a well-made novelty to a cultural phenomenon has been its excellent cast; one that is certainly showing its age but is no less endearing because of it.  You can get a bunch of fools to throw things at each other or intentionally hurt themselves, but that’s never going to capture what Jackass is and why it’s managed to stay funny and downright heartwarming all these years.  With everyone being older, there’s a palpable fragility to things that makes it all the more engaging, and while some of them take WAY too hard hits in this move which we’ll talk about soon enough, this has also led to some positive changes for this particular entry.  There’s less of an emphasis on outright stunts from them and it falls more along the lines of suspenseful endurance tests or hilariously creative nonsense.  When it does focus on more stunt-heavy bits is when the new people fit right in, and frankly, they don’t feel out of place at all.  Sure it’s noticeable that there are some younger people here, but they have the same vibe as the original cast and it never feels awkward to see them bounce off of each other; both figuratively and literally given the sketch they’re working on.  Really, the only problem I had with the new cast is that Rachel Wolfson felt underutilized.  She’s got like two bits in the movie and for the rest of it she’s either on the sidelines or in a supporting role.  I also must take a brief moment to get on my tiny soapbox and proclaim once and for all that the MVP of the franchise has got to be Ehren McGhehey.  No one can deadpan the way that he does, and his weariness throughout this gets some of the biggest laughs in the whole movie.  He’s never quite bubbled up to the same spotlight as guys like Knoxville, Steve-O, and Wee Man, but he has more than earned his stripes in this series and I got more joy out of seeing him than anyone else in here.

I’d personally like to thank you, and your balls, for everything you’ve given us!  Hopefully, the swelling goes down.

Now I’ve been nothing but lovingly reverent of this movie and the franchise, but there is one aspect of this that has not aged well and has become something of a specter over the entire series.  The more dangerous shots, and ESPECIALLY the head shots, are scary in a way that’s not fun to see.  We can easily say that we know more about concussions now than we did when they were doing the other films, but frankly, it was never a good idea for any of them to get hit in the head or take some of the dangerous risks that they did in most of these movies, and while this is probably the least indulgent of those kinds of stunts, they are uncomfortable when you see them.  Even something as simple as throwing a soccer ball at Steve-O’s head had me cringing, and even if it was a pretty soft blow all things considered, I just kept thinking about those interviews he gave where he talks about how they’ve affected him over the years.  The absolute worst of it though has to be the bull hit that Knoxville takes towards the end of the movie.  If you haven’t heard, that was a stunt that went so wrong that it may have caused permanent damage to Johnny Knoxville’s brain.  He went through a lot of rehab to get his mental state back to where it was before and I’m glad that he’s feeling much better; I wouldn’t be surprised if the effects of that stuck with him for the rest of his life.  Even the younger guys who can presumably take more punishment, I felt concerned about them taking big bumps and hard landings, and to put it bluntly those weren’t the funniest bits in the movie.  Johnny Knoxville getting flipped over by a bull was not nearly as funny as the Musical Chairs bit or this really fun segment that’s done entirely in the dark, and if this series is to have any sort of future I would want it to go in that direction.  Focus more on funny jokes and creative setups rather than extreme stunts and scary situations.

I mean I know NONE of this is necessary, but was that one REALLY necessary?

Many have described Jackass as a critic-proof series, and while I don’t exactly feel that way (there is a clear framework for what they are trying to do so you can view it critically from that perspective), it’s hard to deny that they’ve managed to pull it off four times now; five if you include that Bad Grampa movie and I guess eight if you include those in bonus footage movies they released?  In any case, it’s less about them stumbling into a formula that works and more about just how well they can work the formula.  The creativity and comradery between these guys are what really makes this series more than the nut shots and snake bites.  If you enjoyed the other films then I am certain you’ll get a kick out of this one as well and I would highly recommend checking it out in theaters if it’s safe for you to do so.  If they do end up making a Jackass Five (and six, seven eight nine, etc), how about we keep those melons safe, okay?  It’s either that or we’re gonna have to make them using those Boston Dynamics robots.  Sure they can dance, but let’s see if they can drive a dune buggy over a shark tank!

4 out of 5

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