I wasn't wild about the Jackass movies first time round. The devil-may-care attitude of its prankster subjects fed into some indifferent, largely televisual imagemaking; the glib cruelty of their pranks chimed a bit too closely for me with the humiliations of first-wave reality TV and the gurgling crassness of the Final Destination franchise. The bottom line was this: you really had to enjoy seeing actual pain inflicted on your fellow man to get any kind of a kick out of those movies, and it wasn't always clear what (or who) its creative prime movers - braying, sniggering imps of the perverse - were getting at. Using airhorns to piss off golfers at a swanky members club may have seemed a wholly commendable way for these young men to spend an afternoon, but even here any laughter was dependent on the responses (often the annoyed responses) of innocent bystanders who are still referred to in the credits as "marks". And as the phenomenon got bigger, it generated a lot more mess that its multimillionaire man-children were almost certainly never going to clean up. (Not least as they were being rushed away in ambulances to the ER.) Anyway, last year there was a reunion, one of many that took place between old friends in 2021: the now middle-aged elder statesmen Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man et al. joined by a new generation of Jackasses, kids brought up on the original series who disregarded the disclaimers and took to Twitch and Tik-Tok to document their own shits and giggles. The underlying rationale of Jackass Forever is that having survived a deadly global pandemic, the threat posed by rattlesnakes, vultures, scorpions, spiders and a middleweight UFC champion ought to be as nothing. Our heroes have had their shots; now they line up to take shots to the head, body and balls. Oh my goodness, the shots to the balls.
If ever there was a film to mark the so-called "return to normal", Jackass Forever would be it. Despite the new additions and circumstances, this is absolutely Jackass business as usual; it's a franchise that plainly cannot evolve, because everyone involved seems to have had their development arrested in the mid 1990s. A vaguely ambitious prologue - a monster-movie spoof, introducing the main players as horrified onlookers in a metropolis being terrorised by Chris Pontius's cock and bollocks - blows the budget, after which we settle in for ninety minutes of slipshod, scattershot sketches that would have done for any series of the show, and which ideally require several pints of multiplex lager to bond them together. Somewhere in there, my initial hardline anti-Jackassism softened to a bemused tolerance. Some caveats: I still think watching these things is like being present at some bizarre cult initiation ritual, and never more so than whenever Jeff Tremaine's camera pans from a stunt to the Knoxville entourage guffawing among themselves or screaming in one another's faces, often at material that isn't strictly funny. Though the relentless roughhousing occasionally yields something cinematic - there's a simple, bruising sight gag involving a moving treadmill and the gang dressed as majorettes - the framing remains artless and arbitrary, like watching random YouTube skits on autoshuffle. And sometimes this algorithmic direction tosses up things no-one needs to see: close-ups of a ballsack blitzed by a beard of bees, or a splayed anus straining to force out a fart underwater. (Sure, non-porno cinema's never shown us these sights before, but there may just be a reason for that.) For all that, there is more warmth and camaraderie evident in Forever than there was in earlier instalments: they are a team, even if their day job requires them all to take one, two or a whole faceful of mousetraps for said team. When Steve-O finally succeeds in forcing out that fart, the other Jackasses go up as one at the breakthrough, as if they were scientists at the Large-Hadron Collider: you reeker! My theory is that Jackass now stands or falls entirely on the degree to which you'd want these dipshits and dirtbags as your friends; call me old-fashioned, but my feeling is I'd still far rather my pals respond to any suffering of mine with plasters and Savlon, rather than honking like geese. (And then attempting to taser my rectum.) Each to their own, I guess, and in comedy more than most. I still don't understand why they're doing this to themselves, beyond the fact there's money in it, and I don't really know why anyone would pay good money to watch them doing this to themselves. But fuck it: the end is clearly nigh. Knock yourselves out while you still can, fellas.
Jackass Forever is now screening in cinemas nationwide.