Over two decades ago, I was listening to an interview with the late, great Bob Saget. The comedian – most known for playing squeaky-clean single dad Danny Tanner on Full House, in addition to hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos – said of his stint hosting ABC’s Sunday-night powerhouse: “I like watching people get hit in the nuts.”
As I think back on that quote, I wonder if Saget was a fan of the Jackass crew.
I can’t say I knew much of anything about the MTV show or the feature films that came (heh, heh) prior to the arrival of 2022’s Jackass Forever. I was aware of Johnny Knoxville’s status as the figurehead (heh, heh) of the group, and his ability to essay an effective villain in We Summon the Darkness.
After watching Jackass Forever, I also thought of the handful of times the late Roger Ebert, stymied by what he’d just watched, determined that a star rating simply wasn’t relevant. Off the top of my head, I know he applied this anomalous metric to Pink Flamingos and The Human Centipede.
I regarded those assessments with a sense of awe: how John Waters and Tom Six had "broken" the assured and typically unwavering perspective of the world’s foremost film critic.
I’ve also faced that conundrum in my days of assigning star ratings to movies. It’s rare that I come across something I can’t distill down into a number from zero to 5, but when I do, it’s…exceptional in some way.
Basically, Jackass Forever is to me what The Human Centipede was to Ebert.
I won the Blu-ray from an online contest (thanks, Movies Films & Flix!). Despite my lack of familiarity with the Jackass brand, I’d heard positive things about the camaraderie between Knoxville and his glutton-for-punishment posse. And that, despite a penchant for genital trauma, the guys weren’t a bunch of glorified homophobes.
Based on the evidence offered in Jackass Forever, these things are indeed true.
But here’s the rub (heh, heh): this movie made me nauseous. Or maybe I was nauseous before I started it. I didn’t view this as a big deal. After all, only in rare cases have movies made me physically ill, largely due to motion sickness, not actual content (the spiraling camera and sound frequency in Irreversible; the first-person, handheld POV that kept my eyes off the trailer for Hardcore Henry). I thought, rather naively: “this is just a bunch of guys taking hits for 90 minutes – how bad can it possibly be?”
Therein lies something else: the veneer of narrative cinema, the fiction of its illusion, which allows me to sit through Martrys or A Serbian Film without losing my lunch. There’s just something about films that pull from actual, real-world footage (more The Killing of America than Faces of Death) and lay it in front of you with arms outstretched, saying, “this is the dirty underbelly of our reality – make of it what you will!”
Jackass Forever reminds me a bit of the ultra-slick HD style that marked the Hardcore Henry trailer, coupled with the invasive reality of a contemporary documentary.
As a feature film, it’s gleefully defiant of narrative conventions, structures, and pacing. It carries the feel of an unstructured clip show that merely launches (heh, heh) from one prank-stunt setup to the next. Some of these have a fleeting “deleted scene” quality (a KY Jelly slip-and-slide onto rocks), while others are more elaborate (a locked-door scenario with a supposedly real snake in the room). In every case, the underlying point is the trauma these very brave – or very stupid – stuntmen endure in the name of an often-literal punchline.
The more I watched, the queasier I felt. While the film has its fair share of staged material (an opening featuring a phallic Godzilla; a closing stunt involving elaborate pyrotechnics), very little of it feels genuinely cinematic. Pretty ironic, given that Jackass Forever played in theaters on a $10 million budget, and made it back eight times over in global box-office receipts.
I could lament the fact that smaller films like We’re All Going to the World’s Fair receive micro-distribution deals and are left to find their true followings on the streaming and disc circuit. Then again, I’m kind of in awe that a film like Jackass Forever carries enough of a following to not only appear on 50-foot screens, but rake in some cash in the process. Insofar as anti-cinematic middle fingers to stodgy establishment filmmakers are concerned, I admire its balls (heh, heh).
Even though I needed a break for some seltzer to calm my stomach (it didn’t work)…and it was very late at night…and I was fighting sleep, I took finishing Jackass Forever as a sort of challenge: these guys had laid down the gauntlet, and I wanted the full experience, physical well-being be damned.
Perhaps a sign of the film’s success is how it stayed on my mind several days after viewing. If movies should show you things you’ve never seen before, then Jackass Forever corners the market on things you’ve never seen – and will probably never want to see again.