On paper, Jackass Forever operates in perfect sync with every other long-gap nostalgia sequel/revival being used to prop up various streaming services or the tenuous theatrical experience. It arrives 11 years and change after a second sequel to a movie based on (and very similar to) a TV series, brings back as much of its core cast as possible for more of the same and, in some cases, even circles back to revisit certain sequences from previous installments. Just like past versions, Jackass Forever opens with a more staged action sequence that seems designed to blow remaining budget money on a larger-scale expression of the project’s grody whimsy. It’s Jackass, again, again.
Two factors help Jackass Forever mitigate this on-trend sameness, and then transcend it. One is the durability of Jackass itself, which—in case it has somehow escaped you—consists of ringleader Johnny Knoxville and assorted skater-adjacent goofballs performing a variety of stunts and pranks that blur the line between primitive sketch comedy and sophisticated geek show. For all of the boundary-pushing and dangerous stuntwork involved in making two-minute Jackass bits where the guys bounce off trampolines into ceiling fans or dangle with dangerous animals, this series has had a remarkably strong sense of restraint. There are 25 half-hour episodes of the Jackass TV show that ran on MTV, four full-length features and some associated movies like Bad Grandpa. It may sound like a lot, but it’s not exactly a glut over the course of 22 years.
The second factor also has to do with that longevity. Let any movie or TV series run long enough, and it will become at least in part about its own age, and while Jackass doesn’t get too cutely sentimental about how long these guys have been in each other’s lives and ours, it is unavoidably aware of that fact. In some sequences, Knoxville’s hair is a distinguished mussed gray; more than once, Steve-O brandishes and/or retrieves his false front tooth (“They’re dropping like flies,” he grins semi-ruefully). In an early sequence, Knoxville jokes about the camera needing to avoid capturing his bald spot. Spike Jonze, a longtime cohort who only occasionally makes on-camera appearances, rushes on with some spray paint to cover it up. These guys are well into their forties, and they’re still surprising each other with taser zaps, engaging in everyone-loses slapstick competitions and using each other to prop up bike ramps. This is, as the saying goes, a feature, not a bug.
Speaking of which: Are there more animal guest stars this time around? A bear, a scorpion, a charging bull and multiple snakes make appearances, with several other natural terrors unmentioned here. And I could be wrong—I haven’t revisited the first three films recently—but it feels like Jackass Forever hurtles through its stunts with a little less spite than the most extreme moments of its predecessors. There’s still the sense of neverending playful tortures that only friends can inflict on each other, with poor Danger Ehren bearing the brunt of it. Would it be a stretch to ask whether the Jackass boys are contemplating their place in the natural world, with a Malickian contemplation about the way of nature versus the way of grace? (Grace, in this case, achieved by vomiting up milk together, among other bonding exercises.)
If they are asking these questions, they’re not doing it alone. Diehards may flinch at the no-fuss introduction of new cast members. The newbies include Jasper, an original member of the rap collective Odd Future (fellow member Tyler, the Creator also has a cameo, though he doesn’t stick around); Zach Holmes, mastermind of the later-generation MTV stunt show Too Stupid to Die; and Rachel Wolfson, a Too Stupid to Die cast member. (Yes, the ultimate boys’ club has admitted a girl, though she sits out the most extreme physical abuses.) It would be easy enough to assume that someone at MTV preferred the mix of novelty, diversity and sequel possibilities provided by this group, and sneer at them with territorial pride. But whether their connections to the original crew are organic or convenient, the new kids are just as much fun to spend time with as Chris Pontius or Wee Man or any of the other regulars. That affability goes a long way: More casual viewers’ mileage may vary on which stunts are laugh-out-loud funny and which are abjectly horrifying, and the rickety carnival rollercoaster ride works better when the other passengers—whether fellow audience members or the on-camera talent—are screaming and laughing along in equal measure.
Knoxville himself feels more like a host than ever, jumping into the fray for select bits, including a hell of a curtain call for his closer. He’s been good in fiction films, but he never feels as comfortable onscreen as when he’s presiding over this particular brand of mayhem. He emcees every Jackass movie like he may never get the chance to do it again—an unspoken threat that looms larger than ever over this one. After all, it may not be physically feasible to keep this series going as a Richard Linklater or 7 Up-style chronicle of slapstick performance art. Then again, Forever is right there in the title.
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Danger Ehren, Wee Man, Preston Lacy, Zach Holmes, Jasper Dolphin, Rachel Wolfson, Sean McInerney
Release Date: February 4, 2022
Jesse Hassenger writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including The A.V. Club, Polygon, The Week, NME, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching, listening to, or eating.