Twenty years on, after innumerable TV series and spin-offs, lawsuits and movie franchise iterations the Jackass crew is back with yet another festival of fantastically pointless and immature bad taste, including a new younger generation of Jackass stuntsters who tell the camera they can’t believe they’re on the show they grew up with. The last film was Jackass 3D in 2010, part of the 3D craze in cinema which has now been quietly abandoned without anyone noticing or caring. But Jackass marches on.
As ever, the guys are taking turns doing stupid and dangerous things, while the rest of the gang scream with supportive, incredulous laughter and the participants scream with laughter right back at them once the stunt is over. In fact, the real Jackass gonzo discipline would seem to be keeping up the grinning party mood even after a heavyweight boxer has hit you in the balls. Are there any cutting-room-floor-moments when any of them seriously lost their sense of humour?
The gang are getting attacked by bees, bears, bulls. One woman gets a “scorpion botox”: the creature stings her on the lips. Jackass leader Johnny Knoxville is fired into the air wearing feathery wings in homage to the Icarus myth. It hardly needs saying that the Jackass identity is overwhelmingly male – but what also needs saying is that the movies are unique in popular culture in actually showing the penis: that part of the male body that is fastidiously avoided in even the most avowedly explicit films. In Jackass Forever, the penis is shown repeatedly, explicitly and in a way that’s weirdly the opposite of macho. Its vulnerability and absurdity is what comes across in Jackass. It’s like an exotic, strange creature, a victim-version of the menacing creatures in the film – like the huge spider that in one very ingenious game is set up in a plastic tube interconnecting two plastic helmets in which two players’ heads are enclosed. Each has to blow the spider at the other and the loser, having let the spider into his helmet, has to let the spider bite him.
“This isn’t a Mensa convention!” says one player. Is that disingenuous? Isn’t there, in fact, some advanced showbiz intelligence and surrealist savvy in the way Jackass is set up and edited? Either way, it has a horror-comedy impact.