I hope you like poop...
Really, when someone plops down their hard earned movie money--plus the up charge for 3D--to see "Jackass 3D," they already know what they're in for. Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and their band of idiots are going to get in front of video cameras and pummel, smash, crunch, degrade and defame themselves all for your entertainment. Vehicles will crash off ramps, teeth will be pulled, bodily fluids will fly and each horrendous stunt will end with the participants giggling, laughing and shaking off their injuries. Knoxville and his gang have been doing this for 10 years, so the formula's not likely to change...although now, in 3D, it's all coming right at you.
How does one review a "Jackass" film? There's no plot. No character development. I guess it's a documentary, but the only point it seems to be making is "don't try this at home." I wouldn't even call the film's set pieces "jokes," as there is no real build up or structure--just the basest, most juvenile and idiotic humor known to mankind, finding humor in pain, puke and poop.
I imagine that Knoxville and Co. would be very pleased with that review.
The truth is, there's no defense of the "Jackass" series. It's the natural evolution of a culture of children who grew up watching "America's Funniest Home Videos" and probably "Home Alone"--although to be fair, you could also call "The Three Stooges" and "Tom and Jerry" in as culprits, too. For some reason, no matter how refined and mature we'd like to think ourselves, we--especially men--laugh when someone gets hits in the crotch or takes a face plant from a cliff (or, in this case, a big tree). Bodily functions still make us giggle. And while we'll hold our breath as danger approaches, we'll double over in guffaws once we learn no one is seriously injured.
It's crass. It's stupid. It's immature.
And yet, so help me, I laughed. Sometimes very hard and sometimes simply to hold back the sickness. Despite the 40 hours I spent at work looking like a professional this week, some 12-year old part of me, some deep id, was tweaked and I laughed even as I questioned why I was doing so. I don't know that I'll respect myself in the morning, but the truth is that Knoxville and his crew, as Jon Stewart put it this week, turn punching someone in the nuts into some sort of art form.
You'd almost think after a successful MTV show (with multiple spin-offs) and two movies, these guys would have run out of ways to place themselves in mortal peril or that, with a semi-successful movie career, Knoxville would grow out of his phase of getting rammed by bulls or dressing up in old man makeup on the street. And yet, everyone is back, gleefully jumping jet skis off ramps and into bushes, crawling through taser-strewn hallways and strapping themselves into a Port-A-John that is then bungeed into the air, with the predictable mess even more disgusting than you could have imagined (poor Steve-O truly suffers for his art).
I'll say no more about the stunts, except to say that everyone seems a little more gleeful this time around, excited to be back around. There's less of the crude and purposefully wince-inducing stunts this time (the paper cuts and electroshock from the first were less fun than gag-creating), although a gag with a scorpion's a bit hard to watch. The rest is all your garden-variety "Jackass," crashing things off ramps and into bushes, sucker punching your friends or playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with a live donkey that kicks back. In fact, animals get quite a bit of play, particularly a ram who seems to be enjoying fending off intruders way too much and some bulls that knock Knoxville for a serious loop.
This all is more enjoyable than it has any right to be, and I think much of that is owed to "Jackass" crew themselves. If they were fighting with each other the entire time, morose or fearful about any of this, it wouldn't be fun anymore. But the guys giggle and laugh their way through the 90 minutes, even after they've been trampled, pummeled or dropped in snake pits. Even when one of them is the butt of a joke, they laugh it off and walk away. There's an easy-going camaraderie these guys have together, a rapport that feels makes us feel like we're eavesdropping on a very bizarre frat party. It creates a positive energy for the film that extends very easily to the audience. There's never a mean-spirited joke or a gag played at an innocent bystander's expense. Plus, as Homer Simpson once said, it's funny because it's not happening to me.
It's still hard to believe "Jackass" has been around this long, but the guys are starting to show their age. They're a little slower to stand up after a stunt goes wrong and a little quicker to get sick. Steve-O, who spent much of the previous films in a state of intoxication, is now two year's sober--and that extra lucidity seems to not only energize him but also creates a self-awareness that makes his inevitable humiliation that much more humorous ("why do I have to be Steve-O," he asks at one point). A video montage over the end credits shows the cast and crew as children, teenagers and adults (so to speak) throughout the existence of this series and it's surprising to realize just how long this franchise has been around--the fact that they still look like they're having fun putting themselves through torture for our amusement is kind of poignant.
Kind of. Until you realize that the bond that brings them together involves hitting each other in the crotch, pulling out teeth via moving automobiles, seeing if they can make each other vomit and blowing up toilets and living in a state of constant adolescence.
It is my critical duty, however, to say that the use of 3D in the movie is spectacular, easily the best since "Avatar." Filmed in 3D, every drop of water, spit or...well, you get the idea, seems to drench the audience and director Jeff Tremain is wise enough to film in bright colors to make everything pop off the screen. The key to the "Jackass" films is to make you feel every hit, smack and crunch and the use of 3D in this film is the best I've seen in a long time. That actually is kind of sad to write.
Also, there's ultra high-speed photography at work here that produces some of the clearest and most-detailed slow motion footage I've ever seen. If you want to see just how much a person's fat ripples when they're shot with a paintball gun, how far their nose moves when they're punched in the face or what the impact really is when you're smacked with a wet fish, this is your movie. Zack Snyder must salivate over the slow motion work here. Again, kind of sad to write.
Listen, let's fess up here: if you're reading a review of "Jackass 3D," chances are you've already made up your mind about whether or not you're going to see it. You shouldn't be surprised to learn that people get hurt, groins get pummeled and poop is flung. For many people, this is not your cup of tea. In fact, even those of us who laughed likely have to admit that at the back of our mind we're asking the question "why am I laughing a this? What kind of person does that make me?"
And while it's fashionable (and easy) to rag on the "Jackass" films as being lowest-common denominator trash, I think there's also some room for understanding the series' appeal. After all, Knoxville and his crew aren't picking on anyone--everyone is participating willingly. The jokes are never mean-spirited--in fact, the gang's camaraderie is really the energy that carries this film. Yes, it's crass and crude--but in a sea of films that give us gratuitous sex jokes or pick on people, there's a certain innocence to this. Okay, not innocence. Juvenilia. Still...
I think that these movies exist for a culture of young men who have been raised in a culture where men have to be refined, quiet and nice. That sense of wildness and recklessness that used to define masculinity has largely been ignored in favor of dressing in a tie, being polite and politically correct and hitting computer keys instead of doing manual labor. Most young men spend hours playing video games these days instead of being outdoors, getting into trouble and getting themselves dirty and hurt. Knoxville and the "Jackass" crew are perpetual 10-year-olds, still rolling in the dirt, making ramps to jump their bikes over and laughing at their own farts (or, in this film, blowing party streamers with them). It taps into some part of masculinity that has been lost in this culture.
Or, perhaps, people just like poop.
I should note that this review is a milestone--the 100th post on this blog. That makes me feel something...I don't think it's pride.