Hi, I'm Johnny Knoxville. Welcome to Film Occasionally.
To say that Jackass hits different now would be an understatement. First, consider the jackasses themselves — no longer young enough to excuse their self-destructive behavior as boys being boys, they’re older, greyer, and, in some (but certainly not all) cases, wiser. Steve-O returned from the depths of substance abuse and has been sober since 2008. Johnny Knoxville embraced his silver locks at the beginning of the pandemic and hasn’t looked back. Bam Margera, meanwhile, was barred from participating in the latest — and, if they stick to their word, last — go-round due to personal issues stemming in part from the death of his best friend and former Jackass mainstay Ryan Dunn. Then there’s us. We, too, are more than 20 years older than we were when the series first premiered on MTV, which naturally raises the question: have we outgrown these ridiculous antics at last?
The answer, at least for me, is a resounding no. Absolutely not. Are you kidding? I can think of few things more healing as this blighted pandemic enters its third year than the sight of Johnny Knoxville once again going toe to toe with a bull and flying through the air in almost balletic fashion on his way to what we can only hope is his last concussion and set of broken bones. I can understand why someone wouldn’t like Jackass, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a little bad for them.
Beyond nostalgia, beyond needing a distraction from COVID, there’s the fact that each installment of this series has managed to outdo its predecessor in one way or another — present company included. Though there’s sometimes the sense that they aren’t trying to one-up themselves so much play the hits, with a number of stunts coming across as retreads — we’ve already seen Johnny Knoxville get shot out of a cannon, just as we’ve seen pretty much all of these guys endure severe testicular trauma — Jackass Forever still feels like an over-the-top homecoming.
You do feel the absence of both Margera and Dunn, though, and it’s only partially offset by the introduction of a few new jackasses. Rachel Wolfson, Zack Holmes, and Jasper Dolphin (not to mention his dad, who goes by Dark Shark and is subjected to a truly gnarly stunt involving a spider) are among the freshmen who’ve been invited to pick up the torch, and it’s Wolfson who most impresses. One stunt calls on her to lick the arc of a taser gun without making a sound (it’s called “The Quiet Game” and she’s dressed as a mime, after all), which she does with such ease that it’s almost anticlimactic. At times, that’s true of the film itself: having done all this so many times before, it was probably inevitable that Forever would feel more like a plateau than a new peak.
Perhaps the best way to evaluate Jackass Forever — and, for that matter, every other Jackass movie — is as an anthology film in which some segments are memorable and some aren’t. “The Human Ramp” feels tame enough to have been on the original TV show, while the sight of a honey- and salmon-covered Ehren McGhehey strapped to a chair as a bear comes dangerously close to mauling him rather than the snacks is as life-or-death as anything they’ve done before. Fortunately, we tend to remember such projects for their best sequences rather than the middling ones — how could we not?
It’s comforting, too, to note that Jackass has earned a level of acceptance without compromising its identity — gone are the days when senators were calling for it to be canceled. That’s understandable, given how harmless it seems now compared to when it first premiered; by today’s measure, any negative effect Jackass might have on impressionable youths seems positively quaint — better to have teenagers performing ill-advised stunts in their backyards than being radicalized by the YouTube algorithm.
So while it may not be the funniest or most outrageous, distinctions that still belong to 2010’s Jackass 3D, but Forever does have the most heart of any installment in the franchise (literally, in the case of its title design). The sense of joy these ne’er-do-wells have to be back together for one last hurrah would be infectious even if you didn’t grow up watching them, but it’s amplified for those of us who did. For their sake I hope they never do this again, but it still makes me sad that they probably won’t.
You could apply any number of ostensibly negative descriptors to the sight of, say, a fully nude Steve-O trying to keep his composure as thousands of bees swarm his dick — immature, infantile, sophomoric — all of which are as accurate as they are besides the point. Listen, you already know whether you’ll enjoy watching an extended bit in which McGhehey revives the Cup Test by getting punched in the nuts by UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou, having a softball thrown at his balls by Olympian Danielle O’Toole, enduring a hockey puck to the family jewels courtesy of the NHL’s P.K. Subban, and (last but not least) sitting helplessly as fellow jackass Dave England jumps on his beanbag with a pogo stick. As Knoxville says during an especially silly moment, “20 years later, we’re still doing the same stupid shit.” He’s right, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.