Review: Friendships outlast the pain in ‘sublimely stupid’ ‘Jackass Forever’

Three men in front of a swimming pool in the movie “Jackass Forever”
Machine Gun Kelly, left, Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O in the movie “Jackass Forever.”
(Sean Cliver / Paramount Pictures/MTV Entertainment Studios)
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The opening sequence of “Jackass Forever” is one you’ll never forget. It’s a piece of filmmaking so bold, so audacious, and so unbelievably, sublimely stupid that it will no doubt etch itself on your brain for years to come. I don’t dare describe it, because everyone deserves to discover it for themselves, but also because this newspaper wouldn’t be able to publish the details. Let’s just say it’s “Godzilla”-inspired, with a uniquely “Jackass” twist.

“Sublimely stupid” is what the “Jackass” crew does best, and their formula (thankfully) hasn’t wavered since the prank/stunt reality comedy show debuted on MTV in October 2000, then evolved into a film franchise spanning two decades. There’s something comforting about the phrase, “I’m Johnny Knoxville, welcome to Jackass,” even, no, especially if what comes next is a display of pure human agony and humiliation.

Knoxville sports his signature Wayfarers and coif, which he allows to go silver at some point in the filming, a sort of sweet display of how long he and the crew have been up to these antics, and how long we’ve been watching them. He is a circus ringmaster, a rodeo clown and a sadistic game show host, but always, his most important role is the one of big brother. While he freely dispenses surprise Taser attacks, he’s always the first to offer a high five, the one laughing the loudest. Though “Jackass Forever” puts the cast members’ soft tissues through a pummeling like never before, it’s not the violence that puts a smile on your face but the riotous back-slapping that follows the screams of agony after each pratfall, prank and punch.


Knoxville and his original compatriots — Chris Pontius, Steve-O, Danger Ehren, Dave England, Preston Lacy and Jason “Wee-Man” Acuña — are joined by a new crew of masochistic pranksters. These include YouTube stunt-ster Zach Holmes, comedian Rachel Wolfson, Eric Manaka (who appeared in Knoxville’s “Action Point”), Odd Future member Jasper (plus his father, Dark Shark) and pro surfer Sean “Poopies” McInerney, as well as guest stars such as Tyler the Creator, Eric Andre and Machine Gun Kelly. The newbies seem astonished to be included in something they grew up watching, and that exhilaration and awe seems to power them through each bone-crunching, stomach-churning stunt.

The OGs step up for their share of pain and humiliation too. Knoxville ends up fairly battered and broken, Steve-O subjects himself to stunts just shy of a cavity search, and Danger Ehren takes the classic “cup test” to new levels. This film, directed as always by Jeff Tremaine, is very much focused on the members of the members of this crew, who subject their neither regions to astonishing injury. There’s never, ever been full frontal like this before; in fact, the word “frontal” isn’t even an apt descriptor for this display.

On the surface, “Jackass” embodies a “boys will be boys” silliness in the skate-park shenanigans, but these bros have always had a subversive side, refusing to shy away from the naked (literally) homoeroticism of their content. The violence enables an easy physical intimacy, the fear and pain a demonstration of vulnerability. In a world of hard-bodied superheroes, there’s something so refreshing about a man attempting a very stupid feat and expressing just how much it hurts.

This celebration of a brotherhood of battered bodies feels like both a satire of, and a tearing down of, toxic masculinity. As the crew batters and flattens their junk, or covers it in bees, this literal destruction of the phallus could also be a symbolic one. It’s not “feminist” (and Wolfson certainly doesn’t get enough to do) but they are definitely doing something interesting with their manhood. Either way, we hope they have a great urologist on call.

“Jackass Forever” transcends the body horror to achieve a kind of nirvana: The crew invite themselves to laugh so they don’t cry, and ask the audience to do the same. It’s a reminder that pain is temporary but friendship is forever.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.


‘Jackass Forever’

Rated: R, for strong crude material and dangerous stunts, graphic nudity and language throughout.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 4 in general release