After 22 years, the mere mention of the name “Jackass” brings about vivid memories and references that seem larger than life. Sure, there is the surface-level appeal of jesters dancing for entertainment and merriment, but there is also the partially subliminal commentary the tableaus offer as a nod toward contemporary economics, art, and social mores. The tension between these seemingly polar modes might cause a stir in certain society circles, but it is also what they do best. And they certainly do their best in their latest film, Jackass Forever.
Take the scene in Jackass Forever wherein Sean “Poopies” McInerney, Rachel Wolfson, and Steve-O all wear traditional French mime costumes and go through a series of tests while attempting total vocal silence. Wolfson is able to lick a taser beam with little commotion. McInerney struggles to keep his wordless composure while trying to kiss a rattlesnake. However Steve-O bucks all attempts at remaining stoic when under a home built skateboard guillotine. The consideration of the dangers of silence in the face of modern French performance art, and the risks of generalizing gendered expression within that insular world practically leap off the screen and into the audience’s lap. The weighty condemnation of French colonialism in the sphere of contemporary “outsider” paranoia rings true as well, but it is the art world that suffers the greatest blow.
The scientific world is not out of their laser-focused satire either. In an ongoing attempt to light their own farts on fire, the Jackasses build a completely transparent water tank, complete with gynecological stirrups, and a bell jar to catch the gas before it buoys to the surface. The most striking element of this aquatic adventure is the utilization of an explosives expert. This incendiary specialist has been brought in to light these farts aflame and grant the longstanding wishes of the jubilant, childlike men. By publicly deferring to an expert in the ways of elemental experimentation, these Jackasses are emphatically declaring an open war on the recent rise in anti-intellectualism that has cursed the globe. If this infantile horde knows their limits and defers their fart-lighting wishes to a munitions virtuoso, who is the average man to question the science of vaccination or the roundness of the earth? No one would ever accuse the Jackasses of knowing their limits, but here they draw a thick line in the sand between the learned and the pedestrian.
Perhaps the grandest single thread weaving throughout Jackass Forever is the film’s remarks on male genitalia. The film’s grand opening exercise is of a kaiju-sized penis terrorizing an ersatz New York City. The member belongs to infrequently-clothed Chris Pontius, with the enhancement of makeup and some puppetry tricks. This exhibition of prick in monstrous proportions sets the stage for the rest of the film to be overshadowed by the phallus and states that Jackass Forever will present the penis as being larger than life. From Steve-O’s johnson draped with bees to the consistent and unwavering attacks on Ehren McGhehey’s pecker, the schlong is always top of mind and omnipresent. That is, until it isn’t. Occasionally Pontius tucks his trombone and maracas between his legs and out of sight, a la Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. This transformation calls attention to the growing crisis within modern masculinity. To inhabit the previous generation’s declarations of manhood is to perform this masculinity on the world’s stage. But this performance is hollow, and merely a representation of preconceived notions of the connection between the dick and the man. Pontius might be trying to play off his shaft trickery as a quick joke for laughs, but the meaning behind this dramatic chicanery shines bright off the silver screen.
Jackass Forever offers up consistency and reliably insightful analysis into modernity. We have all come to expect nothing less from these sly behemoths of buffoonery, and they deliver it in spades.*
*Joking, guys, joking. Jackass Forever is a helluva lot of fun. The stunts are ballsy (pun intended), injuries glorious, and the friendships hard as forged steel. The gang even seems to have learned something over the years about diversity, inclusivity, and homophobia. If they would only stop bringing innocent animals into their pranks, this could be the funniest entry into their pantheon in a long, long time.