I love how I feel after a “Jackass” movie. My chest hurts from laughing too much, my throat is sore from screaming. It feels like you ran a marathon, albeit a marathon that involved a lot of exposed male genitalia. In a cinematic landscape littered with forgettable mediocrities, “Jackass 3D” is a reminder of what it is like to really feel something at the movies: happiness, or shock, or repulsion, or jubilation, or all of these things at once. Director Jeff Tremaine, producer Spike Jonze, star Johnny Knoxville, and the rest of the “Jackass” gang may be a lot of things: pranksters, morons, bad influences, debauchers, exhibitionists, geniuses. These are matters of opinion. But regardless of opinion, one fact remains inarguable: they are not boring.
As before, this latest “Jackass” is a collection of unconnected pranks, sketches, stunts, pratfalls, and weiner jokes. Unlike before, the decidedly low-tech “Jackass” aesthetic, born of ’90s skater videos and daredevil home movies, has been married to some extremely high-tech equipment, specifically the Phantom high-speed camera. It shoots 1,000 frames of film a second and turns images of dudes getting hit in the face with fish or shot in the gut with cannonballs into beautiful, slo-mo ballets of rippling flesh.
There is 3D, some of it refreshingly in-your-face — I, for one, will never look at a party noise maker the same way again — but the boys haven’t radically altered their approach to suit their newfangled equipment. There are still pranks on the unsuspecting public, most of them now done by Knoxville in old man makeup since he’s too recognizable otherwise. There are still impressive feat of daredevil stuntwork, like Ryan Dunn facing off against the exhaust pipe of a fighter jet. There are still quasi-scientific experiments on the pain threshold of the human body, as when “Danger Ehren” McGehey performs tooth extraction by speeding Lamborghini. And there are still enough exposed penises to send shivers down Carl Paladino’s spine. I think the first “Jackass” film is still the strongest, but all three are extremely well-assembled, and this latest collection of craziness is another worthy addition to the series’ canon. There’s never a dull moment.
Some hyperbolically compare the comedy of “Jackass” to the work of silent film comedians like Chaplin and Keaton and Lloyd. There are limits to the comparison: Knoxville and company lack their predecessor’s refinement, obviously, as well as their dexterity with narrative and character (the closest “Jackass 3D” comes to a story is Bam Margera’s ongoing quest to punch unsuspecting crew members in the face). But at its most basic, the pleasure of “Jackass” is the same pleasure of those silent greats: watching men put their lives on the line for the sake of their art and admiring the beauty of bodies in motion. A skit like “Duck Hunting,” where the cast line up in boats with paintball guns to shoot Steve-O and then Dunn as they plummet to the earth, epitomizes both. Watching Dunn cartwheel slowly through the sky 40-plus feet above the ground as his buds pelt him with paint filled capsules is a sight to behold.
Though every “Jackass” movie is guaranteed to receive an R-rating for language, nudity, and assorted other filth — you don’t see a lot of PG-13 rated movies with “poop volcanos” — there is a purity and even a bit of innocence to “Jackass.” In the age of irony, the Jackasses are the keepers of the flame of sincerity in comedy (their so-called “raunchy” comedy is also surprisingly sexless). Everything they do, they do with an earnestness and a purity of spirit. You think it’s easy to do a poop joke? Try to make one as good as that poop volcano. There is a reason these men have thrived for so long in a world where any moron with a Flip Video can hit their dad in the nuts and get on YouTube. They are simply the best at what they do. The most creative, the most innovative, the funniest, the most daringly stupid, and the most stupidly daring.