Perhaps the unlikeliest franchise of the 21st century has been Jackass, which started as an MTV reality comedy show and has now spawned four feature films and numerous spinoff shows. The original series, in which leader Johnny Knoxville and his merry bunch of pranksters/untrained stunt people did their best to try all manner of dangerous activities, only lasted for three seasons, but the draw of hurting themselves for the sake of entertainment kept them coming back again and again.
Now, 20 years later and 10 years since the last film, comes Jackass Forever, what has to be the last hurrah for at least the original group. All of the surviving members are back (Ryan Dunn died in a 2011 car accident), and since each of them is well into middle age, they’ve brought on a new group of
victims willing participants, including, notably, their first female member, Rachel Wolfson.
As for the film — well, as always, it’s not really a film, but instead a loose collection of insane stunts resulting in more than a few injuries. Among the ones on the docket this time around are a giant slide with a pile of dirt and rocks as a landing point; a human ramp, in which group members lay on top of each other while cyclists, skateboarders, and more jump off a board on top of them; a reprise of Knoxville facing down a charging bull; and many more.
The Jackass group has always delighted in causing pain to each other’s groins, but this film often feels like that is its primary purpose. Outside of adult films, there are few other times when viewers will see the number of penises and scrotums they do in Jackass Forever, and each time is more painful than the last, both visually and psychologically. And yet, there’s just something about how the men willingly put themselves in harm’s way and the reaction of the rest of the group that makes each iteration highly entertaining.
Some of the footage feels like it might have been from much earlier filming, as Knoxville occasionally is seen with his younger dark hair, as opposed to the silver hair he now sports. Most of the stunts are decidedly low budget, but that’s part of the charm. When the group ups the action in the opening and closing sequences, it trades off that lo-fi appeal for literal pyrotechnics, making the case that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
It’s possible that Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius, and the rest of the original group will cede their throne of pain to the next generation, but Jackass only really works because of the infectious energy Knoxville and crew bring to the table. If this is truly it, they’ve gone out on their own terms and, bafflingly, with their minds and bodies still intact.
Jackass Forever opens in theaters on February 4.