For full disclosure, this review was destined to be biased. I am a deadly, die-hard Jackass fan. They bring me joy, they make me feel safe — my own little parasocial friend group of skater himbos. I’ve been counting down the days to Jackass Forever since it was announced a while back.
With that being said, I can say with confidence that Jackass Forever does exactly what it sets out to do, following the basic tenets of Jackass to perfection. We get some low-brow, dumbass, gross-out, homoerotic joyousness between friends — poop and penises and strange, painful interactions with wild animals abound. If Jackass wasn’t for you in the first place, then Jackass Forever will be no exception, but if you have any interest in Jackass-adjacent shenanigans, Jackass Forever is their rambunctious, crude energy at its best.
As ringleader and general instigator Johnny Knoxville put it in a recent interview, “I just like cartoons, and I think life should operate like a cartoon.” Jackass Forever works tirelessly to fulfill this vision: people explode out of cannons, tap dance in tuxedos over an electric floor, dress as silent mimes to be tased and bit by venomous snakes, cover their wieners in bees, let a bull knock them unconscious while dressed as a magician, and so on and so on for a glorious and atrocious hour and forty-four minutes.
After Preston Lacy unexpectedly soils himself in a silver lycra bodysuit before an attempted bit, Chris Pontius looks to the camera and dryly imparts some wisdom: “Preston should’ve pooped before work today. Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail.” It’s sage advice for anything other than Jackass Forever, which relies on things going (delightfully) wrong. “Danger Ehren” McGhehey’s revival of the painful “cup test” — a series of challenges to see if a sports cup will protect his penis — is at its most interesting and horrific when his cup fails him. The funniest bits are when people attempt a skating or balance-based stunt and instead eat it, sprawled on the floor, writhing about. There’s a certain lack of seriousness and preparation that makes the high-stakes stunts seem particularly terrifying. When Knoxville unleashes a bear on an unsuspecting and immobile Danger Ehren, one gets the feeling that the stunt was not prepared with the desired utmost precaution. It goes well, but one sits there thinking it very well could’ve been a bloodbath.
Jackass Forever features (most of) our original crew, including the likes of Steve-O, Pontius, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Lacy, Danger Ehren, Dave England, and their usual behind-the-scenes crew (Lance Bangs, Jeff Tremaine, Spike Jonze, and so on), as well as a few fresh faces: Sean “Poopies” McInerney, Zach “Zackass” Holmes, Rachel Wolfson, Jasper Dolphin, and Eric Manaka. We also get cameos from the likes of Eric André, Colson Baker, and Tyler, the Creator. Most of our cameos and new guard are often giddy at the very notion of being involved in something so ingrained in their own adolescent zeitgeist.
The charisma of the original group shines: theirs is a sort of excited intimacy that can only come from decades of friendship, allowing for an almost boundary-less existence, kicking and touching and groping and smacking each other around with a kind of juvenile blanket permission. The limitless nature of their terrorization upon each other is most hysterically encapsulated in the “Silence of the Lambs” bit, in which Knoxville locks three different duos in the pitch dark, torturing them with fake snakes and beasts, smashing cymbals over their heads, and leading them into dark rooms filled with marbles to skid on and frying pans to run into. As the prank begins and the men grope about in panicked pitch blackness, Knoxville announces gleefully, “I’m Johnny Knoxville. Welcome to hell!” The group, so entrenched in this Jackass dynamic, simultaneously bemoan and accept the sadistic prank, and forgive the torture quickly, so ready are they to laugh it off.
The new group is just as committed to the chaotic laws of the Jackass universe, but they are still navigating these new boundaries. Poopies mentions feeling skittish about the fact that, like the rest of the group, he will, indeed, be butt-naked a few times. When the “Scorpion Botox” stunt goes awry and the scorpion whose sting Andre and Pontius are attempting to plump Wolfson’s lips with falls onto her chest, she asks for Pontius to pick it back up. He hesitates, not wanting to cross a physical boundary: “I’m gonna need permission.” Wolfson responds instantly, agitated by the time all of this is taking, “Permission!” It’s a little moment, but it highlights the shift in Jackass’ world as they work with a new, slightly more diverse, team. (Wolfson is a wonderful sport throughout the film, up for the gnarliest of stunts and bits: electrocution, scorpion stings, Bad Grandpa hidden camera shenanigans. I would be remiss not to note, however, that she isn’t technically the first woman in Jackass; Stephanie Hodge’s work in the early seasons of the Jackass television series is delightful and so worth checking out). But even with these new dynamics and minor adjustments as the new team catches up to the old guard, everyone meshes wonderfully, connected by the desire to commit to some genuinely bonkers behavior.
Jackass Forever has that lightning-in-a-bottle sensation of having us, as an audience, not just in on the joke, but in on the very friendships and relationships that make them work. There is something unavoidably contagious about the jackasses’ incessantly goofy energy, their self-awareness of how weird and wonderful it is that something like this exists (let alone something like this existing for two decades). In a world so centered on getting shit done, on proving ourselves to others, on having massive, tangible, capitalistic successes, there’s something bordering on touching about the fact that Jackass — a piece of art that is simply dedicated to some ridiculous, slapstick antics — has proved so steadfastly interesting to the point that it has become a cultural phenomenon.
For one bit, Pontius flattens his penis between two pieces of what looks to be plate glass with a string and ball attached, making his own DIY phallic-based game of paddle ball. He struggles to get the angle right, to get a rhythm going and keep the ball bouncing. Knoxville, dressed in a t-shirt with “Daddy” emblazoned across it in italic rainbow lettering, completely unbothered — in fact, delighted — by the fact that the whole shenanigan involves his friend’s penis, reaches around Pontius from behind, grabs the DIY penis paddle ball and gets the makeshift toy bouncing at an even rhythm. The rest of the group, sprawled out on couches, some of them inexplicably dressed in tiny color-coordinated crop tops, cheer; it’s a resounding success. They’re hanging out in some living room-esque space, enacting a bit one would only dream of while tipsy or stoned with their friends, just for the sake of it. This moment, and by extension Jackass Forever — and by further extension Jackass as a whole — encapsulates one of the most joyous, magical truths of life in its silliest fruition: it sure is nice to have a friend.