I’ll admit that there’s something strange about finding a man being completely enveloped in feces while hurtling through the air comforting, but Jackass is the kind of franchise that makes you feel those kinds of feelings.
Jackass 3D sees the crew returning for a third theatrical outing that uses light and cheap 3D technology as an excuse to get back together and harm themselves and each other. Knoxville, Margera, Dunn, Pontious, Tremaine, Jonze, O… everyone is back and, despite the fact that these guys are approaching their fourth decades on earth, the stunts are as gross and dangerous (often both) as they’ve ever been. What sets this film apart from the other two though, is a feeling of effortlessness- at this point, these guys just know how to make a bit funny whether it’s an impressively elaborate stunt or a throwaway punchline bit.
From the cinematic, ultra-slow motion opening bit to the grand finale, this is perhaps the snappiest, most dense Jackass film yet. There are dozens and dozens of bits in this film, and they’ve refined the presentation in such a way that lets ten seconds and one shocked bystander’s face do what three minutes of a previous film or the show might have done. While there may not be quite as many “classic” set-ups, there’s also far fewer complete throwaway bits and an overall higher quality and quantity ratio (at least, it feels that way- I wasn’t counting).
Jackass is a decade old now, and there is an ease and, dare I say it, grace with which these guys share their chemistry and dynamic with us. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “you had to be there” or tried showing off that stupid video you took with your best friends to someone else, you realize that it’s not an easy thing to make a universally entertaining spectacle (relatively speaking) out of what amounts to in-jokes and guys fucking with each other. The Jackass formula has been replicated constantly since it started (often with fragments of the actual Jackass crew) but nothing has ever been able to capture the same spirit and the newest film again demonstrates why. Yes, we like watching idiots endangering themselves, but we love watching these idiots endanger themselves.
I suspect Johnny Knoxville does ultimately deserve the credit for the oddly warm relationship between the Jackasses and the audience. Knoxville has always been the star of sorts, and even when he’s not directly involved in a stunt we find ourselves looking to his reaction or laughter first- he provides a constant source of gravity that keeps this whole thing spinning. The most icky and unpleasant pranks never seem to happen to Knoxville, and you have to wonder if this is a clever trick of editing- there is no way he escapes being targeted by the crew on a daily basis. This has the effect though, of keeping him as the master merry prankster- the one who is ultimately behind everything and always one step back, like a Danny Ocean of nut-shots. Knoxville proves why he is the face of Jackass though, when he lines himself up to be rammed by a herd of buffalo, or shares the ring with an enraged bull- Johnny is constantly involved in the small stunts that seem the most life-threatening.
Careful consideration of the Jackass dynamic aside, the stunts have to be big and funny to make this a worthwhile outing, and they live up spectacularly. You don’t see this kind of comfort with casually endangering life or casually making a cock front and center in other films, and Jackass 3D keep you on your toes as much as the previous films. I find my favorite stunts have the guys playing with a big toy that exploits their resources without making a big showy event out of it. The best example is the boys playing with the wind from a jet turbine. The trailers make good use of the cute Maxell Ad gag, but the rest of the scene, as they improvise ways to use the gale-force winds, is the real highlight. The hidden camera stuff is consistently great including the best and most incestuously brilliant Old Man gag they’ve yet filmed. Spike Jonze makes his brief appearance in these sections and you’re reminded that some truly cutting-edge artists have lent their talent, minds, and bodies in service of this franchise.
Finally, the standout element here is the 3D, and I’m not kidding when I say that. The vast majority of this Jackass film was legitimately shot in 3D (apparently there was some post-conversion but for the most part if it was shot 2D, it’s presented that way), and most of it is beautiful. Since its announcement, I had a gut instinct that Jackass 3D would actually be a step-forward for the format and, from where I sat, it was some of the most enjoyable 3D I’ve yet seen. The gimmicks you expect are there; cocks, streams of piss and fart-propelled noisemakers launch into your face, but there’s an astounding clarity and color to even the most simple set-ups. The whole film is surprisingly crisp, and the format does nothing to encumber your view of the madness at hand. The opening/closing sequences actually demonstrate some impressively sophisticated photography and compositing (they were also shot with quality high-frame rate cameras in a studio). The cinematographers really let loose with these two sequences, and the color, slow-motion, and delicate focus-pulling all make for demo-worthy 3D experience.
While the general perception of Jackass is that of a dumb, guilty-pleasure show for teenaged boys, there is much wider audience that appreciates the work these guys do as that rare kind of boisterous, immature entertainment that also stands firmly with one foot in performance art. What these guys do is easily imitated but never matched, and it’s a shame to think this might be their last outing. They wisely never make a big thing out of this being “the last Jackass,” but the increasing age and sobriety of the crew matched with the sentimental closing credits gives it that feeling. I hope we see another Jackass film some day, but Jackass 3D is the tightest of the films so far, and is a fully deserving addition to their vast legacy of dumbassery.