Directed by Jeff Tremaine
John Waters once said “I pride myself on the fact that my work has no socially redeeming value.” His films, kitschy tales from the Redneck Riviera, where abrasive characters act out cruel little plots might not immediately spring to mind when you watch Jackass Forever, the latest (and last) chapter in a bunch of dudes’ collective journey to draw a laugh by any means, but the idea of a film’s socially redeeming value, however slight or grand, does.
Because what’s to gain by watching a man have five gallons of pig cum dumped on him? See someone pedal full-tilt into a backdrop, pulling a visual gag for the audience whose payoff is watching someone wittingly eating shit? To watch grown men shit their pants, puke on themselves, and get hoisted sky-high by their underwear?
A lot, turns out. There aren’t deep philosophical lessons to be sifted from the steady streams of shit and other fluids, wise words don’t filter through the manic laughter of Johnny Knoxville, crown prince of pranksters, and his fellow fun-time experts, and your heartstrings won’t feel a tug as you watch an atomic wedgie unfurl. But anyone who ever hung with your best friends, laughed until you were doubled over, stomach muscles seizing, and face hot with exhilarated happiness will feel the years roll back. Anyone who’s ever found themselves amongst friends, and felt no fear of judgment and could rest easy knowing you were home, can sink right into Jackass Forever.
Because as the gang returns, more than twenty years after they first began their shenanigans on MTV and became must-watch television by strapping rockets to roller skates and getting kicked in the nuts by grade schoolers, that’s the feeling you’re left with: the camaraderie. Even as you wince in your seat watching bodies fly into the air landing on grass, dirt, cacti, mousetraps, and worse, every thud, crash, and bang is followed by gales of laughter by everyone there. Call it collective psychosis, call it hivemind stupidity, but when the vibe is right, it’s right.
An important question is of course how are the stunts? The 10-year hiatus clearly gave Knoxville and co. a stockpile of great ideas to execute, from the quick and dirty gong-crash-type pranks, where they launch a volleyball at someone as they come out the port-a-potty, to the elaborate setups that are more about psychological warfare. A high-water mark remains a Silence of the Lambs-inspired gag where victims are put in a pitch-black room where they think there’s a live venomous snake slithering around.
It’s all elevated by the composition of it all, which has the same sense of rhythm you’d find in a great poem. Long winding sentences followed by short exclamations, never tiring you out, but also never letting you rest.
It’s easy to be drawn in Jackass Forever, and much of that is because it’s so unconcerned with what you think of it that it’s not even something it stops to consider, launching from one stunt to the next with the same non-ceremonial black fade in and out to the point of anti-ceremony, something remarkable on an anniversary such as this one.
There’s little time spared for sentiment, no grandstanding about how the show changed television forever, or what ideas it brought to the fore, and in a world gorging on nostalgia and its bloated entrees of reunions, revivals and reboots and weepy-eyed postulating about legacies, Jackass Forever does the exact opposite, returning not for some unearned applause and because we wanted it, but because they weren’t done. Honest to god, capital S, Showmanship.