Johnny Knoxville & co successfully milk the old formula into a new generation

Jackass Forever

Source: Paramount

‘Jackass Forever’

Dir: Jeff Tremaine. US. 2021. 96 mins.

Johnny Knoxville and his cohorts may be getting older, but they remain blessedly immature in Jackass Forever, the fourth feature in a franchise that lives to subject its stars to all types of bodily punishment for our amusement. It has been 12 years since Jackass 3D, and this sequel introduces new, younger cast members to complement the ageing, fearless performers who first appeared on the 2000 television series. But some things never change: the pranks remain juvenile, the stunts continue to range from harrowing to disgusting, and the laughs come at a steady clip, even if there’s more than a little familiarity to the formula by now. 

This franchise has always been fascinated with male genitalia — in particular, how much pain you can inflict upon them — and the sequel is especially focused on these matters.

Opening in the UK and US on February 4, this Paramount release hopes to repeat the success of Jackass 3D, which grossed approximately $172 million worldwide, the biggest haul of the series. (A 2013 spinoff, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, collected $152 million.) In the new film, younger cast members reflect on growing up watching Jackass, and indeed Jackass Forever could cater to a couple of generations who appreciate the crew’s weirdly riveting slapstick and often shamelessly puerile odes to bodily functions. 

Director and series co-creator Jeff Tremaine keeps the camera rolling as Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man and several other regulars perform dangerous stunts which often put themselves (and their private parts) in peril. Occasionally, Jackass Forever cuts to hidden-camera pranks involving unsuspecting bystanders — such as when Knoxville plays an electrician who needs help — or behind-the-scenes vignettes in which the cast torment each other.

In other words, Jackass Forever proudly repeats a strategy that Tremaine and Knoxville have pursued since the first big-screen instalment in 2002. This sequel doesn’t top the shocks or audacity of the previous films — at this point, there’s only so many new ways the cast can hurt themselves — but there’s a comforting nostalgia in seeing these men-children still revelling in their camaraderie as they wilfully throw themselves into harm’s way. Attacked by vultures, spiders, bulls, bears and rattlesnakes — and that’s when they’re not being shot out of cannons or assaulted by tasers — Knoxville’s pals haven’t lost their ability to be magnetic as they prepare themselves for the next utterly stupid, probably harmful stunt.  

Not unlike in horror films, Jackass Forever milks our dread as we wait for something terrible to happen — although the release is often a mixture of laughter and revulsion rather than screams. This franchise has always been fascinated with male genitalia — in particular, how much pain you can inflict upon them — and the sequel is especially focused on these matters. Much has been written about the series’ joyous homoerotic subtext, and Jackass Forever presents its nudity with such playful matter-of-factness that it comes across as sweet, suggesting male bonding as its most wholesome and adoring. (More than once does one cast member tell another that he loves him.)

Of the new additions, Zach Holmes makes the strongest impression, hurtling his large frame down slides and into paintball war zones with giddy abandon. There’s also a female cast member, Rachel Wolfson, who has to perform a stunt vividly entitled “Scorpion Botox.” But it’s hard not to be drawn to the long-time stars, particularly Danger Ehren, who is the centrepiece of the film’s best, most excruciating parts. Blood and terror await him as he’s zapped, pummelled and tortured, all the while serenaded by a chorus of Knoxville’s infectious guffaws as his friend suffers. 

Jackass Forever invites us to share in Knoxville’s glee, enjoying the all-in-good-fun spirit of these violent shenanigans, joined in by rappers Machine Gun Kelly and Tyler, The Creator. We know that, no matter how traumatic these stunts look, the participants will come out alive — although there is one sequence that leaves Knoxville severely injured. Those brief hints of mortality are an understated reminder of the limits of the human body, just as Knoxville’s grey hair is a poignant indication of the passage of time. Jackass Forever doesn’t reach the dizzyingly sophomoric heights of earlier chapters, but there’s something melancholy about that: even these eternally boyish pranksters can’t stay young forever. 

Production company: Dickhouse Productions, Gorilla Flicks, MTV Entertainment Studios

Worldwide distribution: Paramount Pictures

Producers: Jeff Tremaine, Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville

Production design: JP Blackmon 

Editing: Matthew Kosinski, Matthew Probst, Sascha Stanton-Craven 

Cinematography: Dimitry Elyashkevich, Lance Bangs, Rick Kosick

Main cast: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Wee Man, Danger Ehren, Preston Lacy, Jasper Dolphin, Rachel Wolfson, Sean “Poopies” McInerney, Zach Holmes, Eric Manaka