Johnny Knoxville and the gang return for even more hurt in Jackass Forever, the fourth installment in the series that invites you to laugh your ass off.
Back in 2000, at the start of the new millennium, it’s hard to believe that stuntman Johnny Knoxville and his ultra-crude crew of skateboarding, ball-busting, hard-headed, shit-eating, hard-puking, ass-busting, dick-swinging, prank-pulling knock-around dudes knew that they’d influence not solely the brash, irreverent comedy sensibilities of a new, hyper-digitalized age but ultimately the media-at-large for future generations.
A rag-tag lot of wayward individuals with the wherewithal to film their most extreme, disgusting, perverse, and hilarious stunts and goof-‘em-ups on hand-held digital cameras, to the bemused delight of juvenile audiences of all ages, Jackass started as a series of over-the-top gross-out acts of self-mutilation and machismo insolence and became one of the most foundational works of the early 21st century, in that it inspired an era of sheltered suburbanites and bored teens to revel in the gleeful debauchery that was a rebellious group of hound-dog males exploring the boundaries of good taste and the limits of the human body, all in the lewd interest of breaking down the barriers of common decency and testing the restless endurance of the male human body.
Whether it was done consciously or not, Jackass celebrated the male form and all its flagrant, red-blooded, and tough-nut capabilities, while also acknowledging the tender, vulnerable, and elemental limits of tolerance and control. At its core, it’s one of the most American works of disgusting modern-day art: it’s an ultra-rambunctious, hard-hitting, balls-deep, squirm-inducing examination and celebration of the human body at its most primal and foul, testing the curtailment of human probability while gleefully indulging in a few of the most debauched, stomach-curdling acts imaginable in an effort to push themselves—and their friends—to the brink of savage glory. All in the deranged interest of drunken infamy and demoralizing hilarity.
In other words, the Jackass movies are a mirror of American culture at its most twisted and hysterical. It’s one of the most revealing glimpses at degenerate entertainment that we have in our recent timeline. It’s also, above all else, simply stupid and funny, in only the way that dicking around with your good ole’ pals can be. And it’s incredibly prescient for where we are today as a society, weirdly enough.
With all that said, it’s hard to think of a better or worse time for the release of Jackass Forever, the fourth and possibly final installment in the series’ mad lineage. At a time when even the mere thought of touching another human being can inspire hives and panic attacks, there’s something perfect and imperfect about launching out a brand new Jackass film into theaters. Reuniting most of the brazen boys for another round of misbehavior and mayhem, while also introducing a younger, revering batch of newbies who are all eager to prove themselves in front of their idols and the world at large, Jackass Forever is both a form of self-celebration and self-reflection, allowing us to look back on the pain, insanity, and laughter that wielded this trilogy of prank-heavy pictures with a wealth of fondness and jubilation for what they’ve done and what they’ve gotten away with thus far.
But the film also takes an opportunity to assess itself, its impact on a culture without clear direction or any desire to age out of its pubescent ambitions—no matter what milestones have been crossed over the decades—and its inability to revert back to its old self without taking a few additional trips to the hospital. At a time when people continue to suffer from the trauma and turmoil wrought from a seemingly never-ending pandemic, it might seem a bit callous to put something so blatantly bullish or blasé into theaters.
Yet Jackass Forever feels even more cathartic and commendable than its predecessors, arguably. It allows us to celebrate immediacy and budding camaraderie at a time when connections remain strained, and it propels us to relish in the queasy delights and frights of watching adults consume all manners of bodily fluids—human and, of course, otherwise—at a warped time where (most sane-minded) individuals wear masks throughout their daily lives to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. Even 20-odd years later, Jackass still feels revolutionary, even when it’s not really changing its formula much. And it’s weirdly comforting, even when it follows the shameless coarse habits of grown men who’ve made a living out of pushing themselves to the edge of death and depravity on a common basis.
Continuing to merge the line between Buster Keaton-esque silent film-era extravagance and gawky, YouTube-friendly pranks involving exploding Port-a-Potties and puke-inducing cocktails, plus the cocky (in many ways) showmanship and over-the-top bravado of professional wrestlers, the latest Jackass movie continues the franchise’s insistence on going bigger, bolder, and even more bombastic with every installment, complete with a cold opening reminiscent of ‘50s/’60s-era kaiju movies that, as you would expect, is in the service of one very long, very randy dick joke. It’s the name of the game here.
While there are a few public pranks, the strict COVID safety protocols (arguably the only real safety protocols followed, for obvious reasons) and the public’s shift to mask-wearing on a regular basis prevents them from filling up as much of the runtime as before. Thus, the death-defying, testicle-rupturing stunts become the law of the land, perhaps more-so than ever before. While the newcomers do their fair share of body-punishing dares, the lion’s share of stunts remain in the quivering hands of Knoxville, Steve-O, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna, Dave England, Preston Lacy, Chris Pontius, and “Danger” Ehren McGhehey, all of whom haven’t lost their gusto but carry more vulnerability than ever before due to their inherent aging.
Jackass is, by nature, a young man’s game, but that doesn’t stop these old bucks from pushing themselves harder than ever before, and that gives every challenge an extra element of danger. When these guys fall down, they don’t always come back up. The gravity-punishing, physically enduring stunts carry even more serious ramifications, and Steve-O and Knoxville in particular are left more banged up than usual. This gives an extra level of intensity to each performance. While that can leave a few stunts with more sobering, concerning endings, it surprisingly doesn’t impact the entertainment value found in this third sequel.
Almost every set piece and ridiculous stunt proves to be memorable and enjoyable, particularly with “Silence of the Lambs” and a few other notable segments reveling in the unhinged glee that comes from the extra layers added to the scene. And there’s never a sense that anyone involved isn’t having an absolute blast, even when they’re in immense pain or drenched in a number of liquids from the male nether regions. While Ryan Dunn’s death is mentioned only briefly at the end in tribute, his tragedy hangs over the movie in the sense that this sequel is a rallying call for the very thing that Jackass is and was always about: living in the moment and straddling the line between bravery and stupidity, because life is ultimately shorter than we think, and we might as well live in the present, even when we look back at the past and celebrate whatever the future might bring us.
Though it’s hard to rank and compare all the films in order, Jackass Forever doesn’t quite match the same delirious, audacious heights of Jackass Number Two, but similar to Jackass 3-D, it’s celebratory and cinematic in its own uniquely, singularly debased way. Even when social media and sites like Twitch and TikTok threaten to make Jackass appear outdated, it’s to the continued credit of director Jeff Tremaine and his ever-committed group of foolhardy performers that these movies continue to feel not only fresh and invigorating but vibrant, visceral, and arguably vital. It’s a grand pleasure to be in a theater full of people laughing themselves silly at the unexpectedly tranquil sight of people punishing themselves for our risible amusement. It’s familiar and fresh at once, welcoming in the new era with hugs, butt slaps, and nut shots galore while also giving the stalwart ne’er-do-wells behind it one last attempt to go out in a blaze of glory—even literally, for a few of them.
While maybe not as transgressive as the original MTV series and the first film, Jackass Forever continues to honor its performative, indulgent, masculine, and ultra-homoerotic history with pained ease, while also providing the rare legacyquel that’s apiece, both in spirit and in quality, with the original trilogy. For there’s nothing more American these days than a group of friends and strangers huddled together to watch and laugh at a dude get hit square in the nards, repeatedly and excessively. It’s a time-honored tradition, and if you can’t appreciate that—most especially nowadays—well, that’s OK. It’s hard being a jackass.
Jackass Forever is now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer here.