I'm not sure if it's me that's changed or if it's the Jackass films, but I've gone from being a film critic who completely trashed the first Jackass to being someone who celebrates this iconic little series that celebrates lifelong friendships alongside dick punches, PETA piss-offs, and aging men who haven't really aged one bit.
The Jackass films have always seemed a bit like some sick ass Happy Madison universe, a place where all are welcome, brotherhood (and in significantly lesser amounts sisterhood) matters, and there's not just a blood oath but just about every other bodily fluid involved too.
It's hard to believe that it's been since 2010 that we've seen Jackass on the big screen, this MTV-originated sketch series now having supported those brave enough, or stupid enough, to enter its circle for a couple of decades. Johnny Knoxville is easily the Jackass breakout star, though Jackass Forever finds the regulars inviting in some newbies like Machine Gun Kelly, Zach Holmes, and others who are hazed and then hazed some more.
The truth is I laughed and cringed in equal amounts during Jackass Forever, 90 minutes of humiliation for the sake of laughs and something resembling human bonding also eliciting more than a few "awww" moments as well as Jackass Forever wears its heart on its sleeve a little more than we're used to and it adds an emotional core that fits nicely in between ball punches and gut-wrenching gags. If you've never seen a Jackass film, that doesn't matter. There's nary a narrative thread to be found here and pretty much every film in the series is a mixture of old and new gags.
From the film's kaiju-inspired opener featuring Pontius and an inspired Spike Jonze appearance, it's apparent that Johnny Knoxville may have gotten grayer and most of the originals may be rockin' the 50s now but they're no less relentless than they were when all this began and they're still all just happy to be here. If you've always wondered what a penis looks like, Jackass Forever is the perfect opportunity to find out as they're beaten, battered, waved like white flags, and celebrated in all their flaccid, aging glory.
Knoxville brings back his Bad Grandpa character that was also memorialized in one seriously bad movie (that I still loved). Steve-O's enthusiasm is just as palpable here and Pontius is a constant reminder that aging gracefully is for wimps. It's difficult to fathom anyone lamenting that Jackass Forever is simply more Jackass, less a sequel of any sort and something more akin to a rather demented Up series.
I, for one, loved every minute of it.
I loved the Jackass Forever opener that put me in just the right mood for everything to follow. I loved the stunt that got PETA to come knockin'. I loved watching newbies like Holmes and a special little chap called "Poopies." Oh my.
Some will cringe, of course, at the repeated taunting Holmes endures for his obesity, though he's in on the gag and there's a warm affection that accompanies every humiliating stunt.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It also humiliates you. It also makes you laugh. It also makes you one of the jackasses.
Rachel Wolfson's place in the Jackass universe is welcome, though a little less certain. Jackass has always had a bit of a bromance thing going on and it feels like the guys don't quite know what to do that won't cross a line they're clearly not going to cross. The result is that Wolfson's main stunt feels a bit more timid, though Wolfson herself is fearless and here's hoping they find more to do for her in the future.
Jackass Forever isn't for everyone. If you've never liked a Jackass film, the added emotional component won't be near enough to make you care about this one. If you've liked every Jackass film, the odds are pretty good that you'll click with this one and enjoy yourself quite a bit.
When did my own attitude change about the Jackass films?
Watching Johnny Knoxville breakout a bit certainly helped. Knoxville is a master at playing lovable weirdos and at finding value in characters that most of us would toss aside - his wonderful turn in The Ringer being a perfect example. Then, I had a friend who worked as a section director on one of the Jackass films and it gave me just a wee bit more insight into the people behind the pranks. I suppose it's fair to say that what had previously felt like cruelty suddenly segued into camaraderie, weird camaraderie for sure, but camaraderie.
The truth is I've come to really love the Jackass films and Jackass Forever finds the guys exactly where I've found myself as I hit 50 - looking older, grayer, way more flaccid, and even way more funny.
In the second year of a global pandemic, if we've learned anything it's that we're surrounded by jackasses. Thank god for the ones that can still make us laugh.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic