The Jackass franchise is nothing if not persistent. From its start on MTV to its rise on the silver screen, it has been about one simple thing: how much pain can a person take? Whether through emotional or physical abuse, the people behind it try to hurt themselves and each other in order to amuse their audience. On paper, this should be the most abrasive form of entertainment imaginable. In practice, the camaraderie among the crew miraculously makes their antics endearing. Even when they get into serious injuries, their bond is so tight that you want to see them push forward. So what makes the newest entry in the series, Jackass Forever, noteworthy in the pantheon of ball-busting spectacle? In short, it’s the one that feels like a refinement of everything preceding it.
The earlier movies had their fair share of show-stopping setpieces, and this one is no different. Where Jackass Forever carves a niche for itself is its tendency to let the gags escalate. In the years prior, you would have a sequence where inflicting pain on one’s genitals would be the premise and that’s it. However, this movie often uses that classic sight for a much larger joke. For example, there’s a sequence where Johnny Knoxville hosts a trivia game where the person who answers incorrectly has to endure the pain “down there”. The tension here comes less from the pain inflicted and more from the possibility that one might come out unscathed. As such, the sequence has a sense of build-up that makes the inevitable ball damage more amusing.
Speaking of escalation, this is the first Jackass movie where people other than Knoxville, Steve-O, and Chris Pontius get the lion’s share of good material. Joining the gang are newcomers like Sean “Poopies” McInerney, Zach Holmes, Jasper Dolphin, and Rachel Wolfson. It’s easy to only see these additions as a means to lighten the load of guys who are too old to keep doing these shenanigans. Thankfully, their antics are just as funny as what came before them. From Rachel’s encounter with a scorpion to Jasper getting his father to face his fear of spiders, they all have a chance to shine. As much as one can pinpoint the appeal of Jackass to the original crew, the concept always had the legs to outlive them. And if the new blood is any indication, they only make that fact more apparent.
Jackass Forever also has the good fortune to open with an absolute bang. Sure, it follows the tradition of introducing the cast in a playful manner. But you know what those previous openings didn’t have? A full-on kaiju movie parody! And it’s this one decision that helps the sequence’s gross-out humor feel downright adorable (look out for the “atomic breath”). With director Jeff Tremaine committing to the bit, we get a title sequence that embodies the gang’s juvenile nature while also showcasing their sheer creativity. Top that off with a moment of bonding between the crew and you have a contender for the most satisfying scene in the franchise’s history.
To truly appreciate Jackass Forever‘s mission to escalate, however, one must look at its treatment of Ehren McGhehey. With any group of tight-knit friends comes the punching bag, and for this movie, he steps into that position. As with the previous films, there is no attempt to provide a legitimate plot. However, in its many gobsmacking attempts to torment him, it actually creates a side plot of its own. At first, Ehren endures pain that most normal people wouldn’t dare to endure. But as it progresses, he starts to be in stunts that even the series regulars wouldn’t do themselves (looking at you, pogo stick). So not only are his bits shocking on their own, Tremaine stacks them in a way that frequently ups the ante.
With that said, this is still a refinement of the past rather than a total departure. As a result, the film inherits some of the shortcomings of the previous films. There are still gags and stunts that whiz by so quickly they fail to register. You would think they would put more effort into, say, Knoxville surprising Steve-O with a soccer ball to the face. Alas, the bit fizzles out after only a few seconds. One could argue that their presence is due to the filmmakers being in love with the material. I, meanwhile, would argue that they show up so that the film can exceed a 90-minute runtime.
Does any of the bloat constitute a major problem? Not in the slightest. In fact, the filmmakers compensate with some of the most deliriously fun setpieces in the series. One such highlight is the rather unconventional method in which they pay tribute to The Silence of the Lambs. Under less creative minds, you would just get people reenacting a scene from the movie. Under the hands of these guys, you get a sequence in which that film is merely an inspiration for something much wilder. Because of that, the bit works as a clever movie reference and as a gag on its own.
A naysayer might look at Jackass Forever and scoff at its refusal to steer away from the formula. But as a fan, I have to respect the gang for sticking close to their guns for this long. Aging cast members, bringing in new blood, and filming during a pandemic are big pills for any project to swallow. So the fact this movie pushes through all that and provides the same level of humorous spectacle as before is something to behold. On balance, Jackass Number Two might still have the best assortment of gags to grace a stunt-centric comedy. But as far as reaching new heights is concerned, Jackass Forever reigns supreme. – Mark Tan
Jackass Forever is now playing in theaters.
The film stars Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Ehren McGhehey, Jason Acuña, Dave England, and Preston Lacy.