During the end credits of Jackass Number Two Bam Margera, who cries a couple of times in this film, says, “I hope there’s no Jackass 3.” I understand where he’s coming from – this movie has upped the ante so much that I think the only way a third can top it is to intentionally cripple or kill one of the guys. Look out Danger Ehren – you’re the most expendable.
There’s almost no point in reviewing Jackass Number Two because you already know what it is. If you’re the kind of boring person who isn’t impressed with the antics of the Jackass crew, you’re not going to like this film either. If you’re the kind of person who enjoyed the original TV show and understand the first film’s place in the pantheon of cinema (ie, it’s a classic), then you know you’re going to like this one. Actually the biggest problem with reviewing Jackass Number Two is that I don’t want to ruin any of the stunts by talking about them in advance.
I won’t be spoiling anything by telling you that many of the stunts this time are grosser and seemingly more dangerous than ever before. There are a couple of times when I seriously found myself concerned about Johnny Knoxville’s safety, even knowing that nothing bad had happened to him during filming (we would have heard about it). What’s interesting is how nuts Knoxville seems to be this time – he’s much more willing to go the extra painful mile than I have ever seen before; one stunt involves anti-riot land mines, and after the device is tested on a paper cut-out, Bam and Ryan Dunn wisely opt out. Knoxville berates them into taking the punishment (note: this is one of the times Bam cried. I hate Bam Margera a lot, so it’s satisfying to see him reduced to tears, especially since one of his breakdowns come just because he’s afraid).
What’s interesting about Jackass Number Two is that this time the boys are acknowledging the movieness of it all. The first film had the “filmic” opening and closing scenes, but here the emphasis is on this being a movie – the opening scene has the gang chased by a stampede of bulls down a backlot suburban set, and engaging in real, actual stunts – ie, jumping through breakaway glass. The finale is a big musical setpiece shot on a soundstage which includes Johnny Knoxville visually quoting Buster Keaton in One Week, the short where the house falls on him. Is the Jackass crew making a case for their place in film? Maybe, but they don’t need to – Jackass is purest cinema, and it’s genius in a very special way. And I say that meaning every possible connotation.
My friend and colleague Ed Douglas at Coming Soon dismisses Jackass in general: “[T]his is not a movie. It’s a bunch of guys pulling sophomoric pranks and stupid stunts and filming it. Anyone could do this if they came up with the ideas and were daring or stupid enough to go through with them.” What Ed is missing completely here is that in many ways this is the point of Jackass. It’s completely punk rock in the “Sid Vicious as the bass player who couldn’t play bass” way, but not really, because in this case Vicious can secretly play. Part of the fun of Jackass is the belief that you could do this stuff yourself, but when you watch it you realize there’s no way you could, at least not without immediate hospitalization. In a lot of ways it’s dipshit empowerment, but why don’t dipshits deserve empowerment as much as anyone else?
But what Ed and many critics miss out on is the fact that a lot of this stuff is actually clever. It’s not some deep statement on humanity, but the concepts are genuinely clever in a witty way. They’re funny in concept, and this is what makes most of the Jackass stunts really work – there are three stages of laughter. Stage one comes when you realize what these idiots are about to do. Stage two is the mix of laughter and ball-protecting shock when the stunt either goes painfully wrong or painfully right. And stage three is the laughter from watching the idiots writhing in pain. Of course it’s become very obvious that the Jackass crew is aware of this, and they really go out of their way to sell the stage three laugh, which remains their only big concession to entertainment. They realize you don’t need to go out of your way to make a guy getting a beer enema funny.
They also don’t need to go out of their way to make this stuff gay, but they do. The gayness is maybe the most fascinating subtext to the whole Jackass phenomenon – it reflects the standard homoeroticism that comes up in any group of guy friends, but magnified a thousandfold. In one of the first stunts perennially nude Jackass Chris Pontius makes a little mouse outfit for his penis, and he inserts it into a tank featuring an angry snake to see if it will bite. There’s a certain level of gayness inherent in the whole Jackass group standing around looking at this, but of course everything gets taken to the next level – in this case Knoxville ties a string around Pontius’ cock and makes it dance for the snake. In another stunt Bam gets a dick-molded dildo rammed up his ass at high speed. In a bit that plays over the end credits and hosted by gay icon John Waters, Wee Man gets jumped on by a buck naked Preston Lacy, finally consummated the fat man and little guy sexual tension of the last six years. Obviously the gayness of many of these stunts is part of the joke, but I have to wonder if one drunken night Dunn and Bam found themselves entangled together, passionately making out.
Jackass Number Two pushes the boundaries of the R rating for sure – there’s a lot of cock and balls and shit on display here. Amazingly the MPAA drew the line at a very odd place (and this is mildly spoilery), forcing the censoring of a bit that had been cut from the Pontius and Steve-O show Wildboyz. In the bit, which guested Knoxville, Pontius drank horse semen. For some reason this was too much for the MPAA, forcing the filmmakers to put a censored bar over Pontius’ mouth during the actual drinking. Were they concerned this would be too erotic?
There’s something deliriously avant garde about Jackass in that it’s non-narrative and yet it’s telling a story. You get to know the individual personas of these guys during the short bits, and it’s completely through action, making Jackass among the purest examples of cinema ever. Structurally there are chronological clues – usually in the forms of injuries in various states of healing – that give you a basic timeframe, which allows you to see the stunts in a bigger context. It’s easy to compare Jackass to a feature length compilation of YouTube nonsense, but the truth is that these guys bring charisma and personality to the proceedings. In a lot of ways Jackass is basic stimulus-response stuff, but there’s certainly a place for that in filmmaking as much as there is lengthy meditations on the human condition.
By the end of Jackass Number Two you feel exhausted and sore from laughing. It’s a great way to walk out of a movie theater, feeling purged (perhaps literally, depending on your tolerance for severe injury, blood, semen and feces). At this point you’re either in on Jackass or you’re not, and if you are, Jackass Number Two is exactly what you were hoping for.