What Did You Do Today?
On the handful of occasions that I had to defend my love for the Jackass movies, I got about two sentences in before my audience’s eyes glazed over. These are not easy to sell to “serious” film lovers, or to anyone who believes themselves above such entertainment (about ninety-nine percent of the population). To be honest, I didn’t know if a third installment would be defensible. Aren’t these guys, like, forty? And they’re still running around filming juvenile stunts for MTV?
Yesterday, I was given three omens of doom—three signs that I should not watch Jackass 3. Here they are, in order:
- I went alone. I watched the first two movies with groups of friends. This is definitely the way to experience Jackass, but 10am on a Saturday is not a friendly invitation. Fortunately, strangely, the theatre was packed with rowdy, eager fans.
- The sound was out for the first three minutes. Yes, the Paramount and Dickhouse logos were accompanied not with music, but with a dreadful “whump-whump” warble that sounded first like a helicopter landing on top of the theatre, and then like a muffled earthquake. By the time someone got up to complain, the Beavis and Butt-head intro explaining how to use the 3D glasses had passed, and the mad opening credits sequence was half over.
- The first ten minutes of the movie sucked. If you’ve seen the Jackass 3 trailer, you’ve seen the “High Five” gag, where unsuspecting members of the Jackass gang walk through a door and are knocked flat by a giant, spring-loaded rubber hand. It’s a great bit—the first time you see it. Perhaps director Jeff Tremaine wanted to use this as a primer for the rest of the film, clueing us in on the 3D, slow-motion, and repetition of shots from different angles; but, man, does the giant hand thing get old quick.
Despite all these problems, I stayed in my seat. I’ve yet to walk out of a movie, and there’s no way Jackass 3 would be the one to break my streak. I did wonder, though, watching Johnny Knoxville ride a jet ski off a ramp into some hedges, if maybe I’d grown too old for this kind of nonsense. I was slumped down, not laughing, not amused, and not wanting to see any more. Oh, how thrilling, I thought, a bunch of guys are riding dirt bikes into an inflatable pool; I wonder what will happen?
Then the beekeeper showed up.
For a moment, I didn’t know what I was looking at or why I was looking at it; this guy was talking to the cameraman about wrangling between ten- and fifty-thousand bees. Suddenly, Steve-O and Dave England arrive in nothing but their underwear and plush teddy bear hats, and they’re looking nervously at a tether ball pole. Yes, the ball was stuffed with thousands of angry bees, and as the two players approached it, the fear on their faces was delicious.
I realized then that I hadn’t lost the ability to appreciate Jackass; it’s just that the movie’s warm-up was painfully lame. After the bee tetherball scene, the stunts and pranks got better and better. From a candid-camera setup where three midgets get in a bar fight—which is broken up by a squad of midget cops and cleaned up by midget paramedics in a seamless, three-minute clown-car of a scene—to the gang exploring all the ways one can make use of the back end of a fighter jet, the spirit of Jackass thrived. The inventiveness of the gags and the glee of those involved made the whole experience an absolute joy.
Jackass has a reputation of being a dumb stunt show, but the reality is that it’s a dumb stunt show with money. Sure, this crew made their mark by filming dangerous tricks in their back yards, but now they can afford to pull off really complex bits, limited only by their sick imaginations. What’s nice about Jackass 3, though, is the balance it strikes between the relatively mundane (using Super Mighty Glue to bond a very large man to a midget in the 69 position) to the spectacularly gross (launching a loaded Port-O-John on a mega bungee rig with Steve-O strapped to the seat inside). Not all the gags are gems, but for every guy in a gorilla suit wrecking a fancy hotel room there’s an obstacle course comprised of fifteen dangling stun guns and four cattle prods that must be traversed by six guys dressed in old-timey prison outfits.
So maybe the Jackass films aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But that in no way de-values them as art.
How can sawing down a forty-foot fir tree with two guys dressed as Santa and an elf atop it qualify as art? Leaving the “performance art” debate aside, the key to understanding Jackass 3 lies in appreciating the filmmaking. This isn’t a ninety-minute clip show shot on handheld cameras, this is a team of skilled craftsmen bringing the audience inside the experience of a guy getting flipped in the air after having his groin smashed by a charging bull. The aforementioned slo-mo replay and multiple camera angles help, but the sound puts everything over the top, creating a complete vicarious experience that gets a reaction; which is as solid a definition of art as any film can hope to accomplish.
I should mention that the Jackass guys aren’t two-dimensional cartoon characters. Though their bodies are rubbery and tattooed with all the cohesion of a sixth-grader’s notebook, Jeff Tremaine knows that capturing their humanity is the key to getting the audience to empathize with them. Instead of fearlessly jumping into every life-threatening bit, we see them as nervous, angry, and sometimes downright scared—as if they’re re-thinking their life choices in real-time. Of course, no one chickens out in Jackass, and the post-stunt reaction varies from elation to “Get me to the hospital, that was fucking stupid”.
Who knows if we’ll see Jackass 4 (or Jackass 14)? I thought the last film would be The Last Film, but as long as there are untapped possibilities for live scorpions, I guess we’re stuck with Knoxville and company.
That’s fine by me. It’s a hell of a way to make a living, especially compared to those of us whose daily exposure to the outdoors is limited to walking from the house to the car and from the car to the office. These movies are real-life Peter Pan fantasies, where Peter gets off on broken bones and excrement.
Note: I opted out of seeing this movie in 3D. While I highly recommend seeing this in a theatre, the filmmakers do a solid enough job of giving extra dimension to the 2D version that you don't need to buy those silly glasses.