Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Just before the Zeroes began, I nearly sent a rented snowmobile into a Rocky Mountain chasm — not on purpose, but because of an inability to reconcile speed and balance with adrenaline and inexperience.
Smacking the engine’s kill button and tumbling off was awful and awesome — the former because rental insurance had been declined, the latter for how incredible it would be to bail seconds before the snowmobile exploded in an abyss.
Mercifully, a bush blocked the slowed snowmobile’s path, and the only damages were tour guides’ wagging fingers. Had the worst happened, it wouldn’t have been willfully malicious destruction — just escaping unscathed from something stupid, but neither illegal nor harmful to anyone else.
The Jackass crew, and their 2002 and 2006 films, indulged armchair badasses all while seeming like nice guys who’d pony up for property damage after cameras were turned off.
Audiences experienced vicarious thrills of watching someone else’s testes, noggins or anuses scuffed, bruised and bloodied. Meanwhile, Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius and company kicked the idea of controlled fear in the baby-maker and left it hanging by one finger over a cliff.
That’s where the films, more than the TV series, pushed the envelope of outlandish stunts and good taste. Especially in Number Two, Knoxville, Margera and company prodded themselves into a hilariously fascinating exploration, and exploitation, of their own psychological fears. After all, a director like Spike Jonze wouldn’t be a hanger-on if there were no subtext.
Jackass: The Movie’s priority on superficial shenanigans doesn’t diminish its effect. It’s a ridiculously funny barrage of taboo pranks, practical jokes and tests of both social altruism and Margera’s parents’ patience — most of it failsafed so that the foolishness never subsides.
Highlights include a Carmina Burana-accompanied running of a brick-cannon gauntlet, a rental car readied for a demolition derby, the “Golf Course Airhorn” and a paper-cut bit that yields one of the most unendurably squeamish bits from any Zeroes movie just from guys in a hotel room. (Plus, watch through the end credits for what is the best-ever homage to RoboCop.)
Number Two includes 10-second bullet-sprays that work (“The Magic Trick” with John Waters, a miniature bathroom tableau) and “Terror Taxi,” a climactic prank with five layers of wrong.
But it upped the ante to address the spoils of success on the group — from a groupie-letter gag to Knoxville insisting his face not be harmed (for what was then a strangely budding film career).
These challenges rattle those seemingly incapable of being fazed. Sometimes freaked out just by uttering a stunt’s title, they skittishly conjure courage toward completion. “Beehive Limo” reduces Margera to a blubbering wreck. Steve-O marches into Takashi Miike territory with “Fish Hook.” “Big Red Rocket” puts Knoxville inches from death. And, well, Pontius allows “How to Milk a Horse” to happen.
These guys are far from done — they’re back later this year, in 3D. If they can continue such cathartic, convulsive comedy, being welcomed to the mad-scientist lab of Jackass is an invitation worth accepting.