Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 1 hour and 32 minutes
Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
The masochistic men behind the JACKASS franchise have been entertaining us with their hijinks, long cons and good old fashioned buffoonery for a little over two decades. In that time, they’ve won a legion of fans, even enlisting A-lister Brad Pitt and hipster auteur Spike Jonze (who serves as their long-time producer) to participate in their raucous pranks. Yet what elevates the schlock from an “Ow! My Balls” style, empty caloric intake to something far more nourishing is that it speaks volumes about the troupe’s enduring and rather endearing camaraderie. Somewhere in between the junk-punching madness and animal-semen-covered sideshow mayhem in JACKASS FOREVER, masked in the underpinnings of the uproarious skits, lies resounding commentary on friendship, aging and reflection. Don’t worry – it’s also incredibly crass, stupid and hysterically funny.
The construction of the gags has always been one of the franchise’s greatest strengths and continues to be in this chapter. The introductions, titles and set-ups of the stunt-heavy skits are part of the fun, anticipating the glorious, hilarious hits and pain about to befall these brave souls. Bless them for sacrificing their bodies to these preposterous pratfalls. They return to a few skits they’ve done before but tweak them ever so slightly, like the charging bull, the non-working toilet and the tighty-whitey wedgie. A slew of new offerings are equally outlandish. The “Silence of the Lambs” escape room sequence, where a few guys are trapped in a pitch black room and are tased and tormented, is a highlight amongst bright spots. Any time they use high-powered mechanical rigs to do something as simple as punching each other in the crotch is delightfully bombastic overkill. This iteration’s most indelible sequence, however, includes a professionally choreographed tap number and a dance floor and piano bench that are electrified and zap prank participants when they least expect.
It’s clear director Jeff Tremaine and company know and trust their audience. They don’t need to work hard for the laughs, but creativity and ingenuity are the motors that power the scenes. Whether their brilliant bits – which range from hidden camera pranks to elaborate staged experiments – are 10 seconds or 10 minutes, the editing and comedic timing are snappy and perfectly paced. At a certain point, the gross-out gags (of which there are many) primarily become about making their poor, unwitting camera guy dry heave and vomit behind his mask. In terms of the series, there truly is nothing funnier than the incredulity expressed by these dudes about to be put through the wringer. Their surprise and betrayal are palpable emotions – specifically Ehren McGhehey when he’s forced to test the strength of his jock strap cup. While they put themselves willingly through physical and some psychological trauma, we’re witnessing a genuinely bonding experience (“I love you dude,” expresses one of the gang post-dare).
Though they’ve added new cast members, including a steel-witted woman (Rachel Wolfson) who’s a champ in her challenges, the group dynamic remains almost the same. It actually takes on a whole new meaning for series stalwarts like Johnny Knoxville, Chris Pontius, Steve-O and Dave England, who are shown taking time to reflect on the journey that’s brought them to this current place and time. The phrase “passing the torch” is thrown around on-screen, but it’s more of a trial-by-fire for the new guys as they’re anointed by puke and a hail of paintball gunfire.
Occasionally, some of their monkeyshines do wear thin. They rely a bit too heavily on pranks hinging on an animal (granted, one under supervision from a wrangler) whipped into an agitated state to make the humor land. It isn’t particularly inventive, given these types of skits have been shown in previous installments. And, while none of them are executed with any malicious intent, they’re used to excess. There are, of course, cringe-worthy consequences for these folks tempting nature, so at least there’s that for a benefit.
All in all, it’s heartrending to see aging characters who made an indelible mark on the pop culture zeitgeist return to a beloved franchise, while acknowledging the meaningful resonance their return entails. They’ll forever be agelessly asinine.
JACKASS FOREVER opens in theaters on February 4.