To feel the compulsion to review something as simple and as similar to its predecessors as Jackass 4.5 signals how much of a hold the Jackass franchise has on me, and yet, I cannot resist. The collection of .5 films — an accumulation of leftover footage and interviews from whatever most recent Jackass film was released, loosely described as “documentaries”— are as magical, if not even more delightful to me, than the “official” Jackass films in some senses.
These bonus footage films only further emphasize how deadly serious this crew takes their wonderful, horrific, silly work. Some highlights ditched on the Jackass Forever cutting room floor but included in Jackass 4.5 include DIY enemas with hot sauce, a bowling ball to the testicles, and the consumption of some sweat-covered sashimi. The latter stunt is evidence of newcomer Rachel Wolfson’s ability to not just keep up, but surpass in levels of gnarliness, the dudes she’s surrounded by. She calmly plucks sashimi directly from Zach “Zackass” Holmes’s sweaty belly button and swallows it with ease as the group heaves around her. She shrugs to the camera, “I’ve had worse things…”
In our interview portions, there’s a lot of talk about aging, about whether or not they thought all this would “work,” about the potential changes to the tone of the film now that the old guard is in their forties and fifties (Steve-O looks on the bright side: “Shoving things up your butt gets a lot easier [with age]”.) Particularly charming are the three-way chats between the head producers Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville, and Spike Jonze. Jonze, now perhaps more notorious for his more critically accepted directorial pursuits outside of Jackass is still a key contributor to the raunchy, juvenile silliness of Jackass, as he happily takes credit for the complicated opening gag of the Godzilla-like monster penis attacking a city: “I just wanted to get it right,” he explains as they talk about the incredibly expensive bit that Jonze became obsessive over.
There’s a certain parasociality that the premise of Jackass relies on. A horrified fascination in watching some buddies puke and abuse each other’s bodies in campy costumes can only get us so far. Jackass is helped vastly by the group’s likeability, their loose pecking order dynamic, offshoot duos — the “yeah, dude” skater charm of Chris Pontius and Steve-O, the consistent pairing of Preston Lacy and Jason “Wee Man” Acuna, the grouping up of the Jackass Forever newbies as they suffer through the process together — and their ability to improv and riff off each other. The group has an easygoing, almost boundary-less physicality (affectionately or painfully) throughout.
There’s a unique chemistry between them, a friendly draw that gives the feeling that you personally would get along with these guys if you were permitted to stand and spectate. I like seeing them laugh with each other even in less extreme moments, in moments where they’re just being friends. I like the idea of seeing them goof off in whatever the Jackass equivalent of a “quieter moment” may be. Jackass 4.5 provides that sensation, the feeling of being there, not just for the final product, but for the giddy, oftentimes surprisingly complicated, conception.
These quieter moments are still, by standard scale, inconceivably strange. Director Jeff Tremaine patiently and carefully painting Zackass to look like a baseball to be lubed up and dragged across home plate, Johnny Knoxville carefully climbing and reaching under a complex scaled miniature model of a city to make sure Chris Pontius’ penis (painted like an attacking monster) is properly placed — “Phew.. Yeah, moviemaking,” Knoxville deadpans as he stands up from the adjustment.
Longtime fan and newcomer Eric Andre muses at one point, “It’s one of those things that when you watch it growing up you’re like in love with it, but when you’re actually on set you’re like, this is fucking hardcore.” Jackass is hardcore, and Jackass 4.5 reveals both this hardcore-ness as well as the immense effort it takes to create something that balances between shocking and painful and fun and silly. And while so much of the group is happy to say again and again that they love what they do, they can’t believe it’s their work, I am equally eternally grateful that I get to continually watch what they create in horror and delight, and never, ever have to do it myself. Jackass 4.5, like all of its predecessors, hits that sweet spot between joy and revulsion, with a touch of extra personability that one perhaps didn’t even know they craved. I thank them for their very specific, very strange service.