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In Times of Trouble, We Turn to Johnny Knoxville Getting Gored by a Bull

Surprisingly, ‘Jackass Forever’ might be the most necessary movie of the year

Paramount Pictures/Ringer illustration

Jackass Forever opens with a set piece featuring familiar faces, explosions, a snapping turtle, Johnny Knoxville cosplaying as Robert Duvall from Apocalypse Now, and a kaiju penis. Then, like a hymn, we hear the uplifting jangle of “Corona,” the riff that for years has rung out like a righteous dirtbag battle cry across time and space. I don’t want to reveal too many of the film’s finest moments, but my professional advice? Go see Jackass Forever. See it with your wife. Your boyfriend. Mom or Dad. See it with Alana Haim or Jeremy Strong. See it with a boomer and a zoomer. See it because it’s comforting. Because watching it will feel like reuniting with an old, very stupid, very self-endangering pal.

The Jackass brain trust has learned almost nothing in over two decades. The newest installment offers a medley from the standard Jackass prix fixe menu: falling from great heights. Messing with bulls. Dicks being abused in one manner or another. Stunts, pranks, celebrity cameos, and psychological warfare, but most importantly pure joy—a continuous diegetic laugh track, raw, unmanageable, contagious. At the very center of it are the aging coterie of veterans still going hard in the paint, still fighting the good fight, still subjecting themselves to intense physical and mental punishment in the name of … something? It’s soothing, even calming, watching Knoxville, Steve-O, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Dave England, Preston Lacy, Danger Ehren, and Chris Pontius (the youngest of whom is 45 years old) attack their wild, harrowing craft on the big screen with the same quasi-concerning enthusiasm 20 years later. There’s a certain value in the familiar, even when the familiar takes the form of a vulture straight from hell getting too close to your private parts.

If the Jackass crew can still find it within themselves to seek out this sort of punishment and retain the love of their sick game, perhaps there’s hope for us all to age gracefully into the best, weirdest, and truest versions of ourselves.

Jackass came to us in 2000, when we were young, dumb, and full of post-Y2K boredom. It predates and outlasted America’s war in Afghanistan. The franchise is the end result of a profane merger of skateboard magazine Big Brother alumni, West Chester’s CKY crew, one uninhibited circus clown, and various other hangers-on. They created the nucleus of a Wu-Tang Clan of skater pranksters, gonzo provocateurs, glue-guy role players, and absolute mad men. If memory serves, most of our parents weren’t impressed. One parent specifically, Senator Joe Lieberman, denounced it, which meant it was art worth fighting for. We watched it with our friends and it gave us permission to be annoying, to prod at boundaries, to put ourselves in a bit of probably manageable, camcorder-recorded danger now and then. Jackass followed us from high school to college and periodically afterward, long after we quit doing idiotic, sacred mischief with our formative-years friends. We changed. We got old. The Jackass gang did too. But also, they didn’t.

It’s a testament to the personalities involved that Jackass still carries this much cultural heft. Imagine the early 2000s. Think about an alternate 2022 in which serious publications dole out headlines like “The Radical Healing Power of Fear Factor” or “The Tao of Punk’d.” You’d tear up a magazine that had the audacity to print a headline like that because you know those shows were about nothing and meant nothing. It was all shock with no awe. Jackass gave us fellowship—a dirty fellowship, but a fellowship. And so in whatever fractured, age-worn way possible, Jackass Forever is the story of middle-aged guys (with some youngish pals) who refuse to compromise the spirit that got them to the big dance in the first place.

There are two ways to enjoy Jackass Forever. Both are equally valid. There is understanding that this is transcendent performance art orchestrated by masters of their craft, a battle-hardened crew who subject themselves to our communal nightmares to demystify, withstand, and conquer them through sheer courageous, ill-advised decision-making. To do it all surrounded by friends, ensconced by the camaraderie of scars and years, cognizant that no matter how painful or horrifying the stunt is, the end result is raucous laughter. The absurd laughter of perseverance. The other way to enjoy it is to just enjoy it because it is funny as hell. People getting launched out of cannons wearing Icarus wings is where it is at. There’s nothing political, moral, or time sensitive at work here. This is the primordial goo of man. Our most self-destructive tendencies elevated to art that moonlights as comfort food.

So, history has already rendered its unassailable verdict via critical praise. Early exit polls indicate that, PETA aside, every person on planet Earth loved Jackass Forever, and in an affecting, profound way. A void has been filled and hearts have been lifted up by the swaggering belly-laugh return of the original bad boys (and some new bad boys, including a real live human woman!) of physical endangerment comedy. Jackass Forever is the Citizen Kane of Dudes Rock Cinema. An exclamation point covered in feces on an already towering achievement of American artistry. Sitting in a theater feeling moved by the fourth film in the Jackass franchise is a strange sensation, but not an unwelcome one. It feels more necessary than ever in our current dishonored hell-world. The discourse is poisoned, the planet is on the brink, the pandemic will never end. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one antidote to all this is watching the reigning UFC heavyweight champion pulverize a man’s testicles.

Our current entertainment landscape seems to be predicated on a laziness and refusal to create something new, instead relying on nostalgia and often-uninvited resurrections of established intellectual properties. (No seriously, they are really making a That ’90s Show!) Jackass Forever elides this cash grab—not that they don’t want or deserve lots of cash—mostly by virtue of it being a show about actual human beings, people who are for-real comrades, not rebooted Ghostbusters or a gamer version of the Matrix or whatever this new Sex and the City thing is. The Jackass crew are still the imperfect, often hilarious dudes we remember, still living their ridiculous dream. This is the familiar genius of Jackass. There is basically one joke, one possible outcome. We always know exactly what’s coming once we see the setup. The cast (usually) also know what’s coming. There shouldn’t be any tension or suspense because the punch line is broadly apparent, and yet when it arrives, it’s impossible not to crack up. Over the years, Jackass has concocted and perfected a sort of dangerous sameness. A familiar chaos.

Our present reality feels so far removed from the classic era of Jackass that Forever seems almost anachronistic. Knoxville and his pals/minions are operating outside of space and time. Their bodies got older, but their hearts and minds remain just as perfect and dumb as they were 20 years ago. Triumph of the Un-Chill, you could (but shouldn’t) call it.

Watching Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O and Wee Man and Pontius and the rest of the turn-of-the-century crash-and-smash weirdos on the big screen again feels like attending an idealized high school reunion. No anxiety, no “so what do you do for work” small talk, nobody judging you for losing hair or gaining weight or getting weirdly into horticulture. Instead, it’s like picking up right where you left off with your best, wildest friends, a pageant of untamed weirdos uninterested in yielding to either conventional wisdom or Father Time. Nobody pulling you aside demanding that you “grow up” when you try to kiss a snake or ride a friend down a lubed-up slide in the desert.

What may literally amount to a collection of loosely associated vignettes of stunts and familiar pranks punches well above its weight class. Somehow, Jackass Forever is cinema. Weirdly wholesome cinema.

Alex Siquig lives in Baltimore, drinks MD 20/20, and writes about things like Game of Thrones, the Willennium, and the life of Doug Funnie.