There was a forbidden thrill in watching Jackass as a kid during the show’s heyday on MTV. I was 9 years old when it aired, so I’d either watch it alone or with my brother when our parents weren’t around — and when it was safe to watch host Johnny Knoxville take a sledgehammer hit to the nuts.
When Jackass: The Movie came out in 2002, I still felt a certain shame for so eagerly wanting to watch something in which a man defecates in a hardware store’s display toilet.
Now, with the arrival of the fourth film in the franchise, Jackass Forever, all my guilt has gone out the window, especially amid the pandemic. After being so cooped up at home and cautious in public, it’s cathartic and vicariously thrilling to watch people throw inhibition to the wind while licking tasers, kissing rattlesnakes, hitting testicles endlessly and chugging milk on a merry-go-round.
Of course, the bitter irony here lies in the fact that they’re willing to do all of these dangerous stunts while those around us can’t be bothered to do so much as wear a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.
Because of COVID, the Jackass crew had to cut down on the public pranks, leading them to prey upon each other — which has always been more fun anyway. One of the funniest setpieces involves pairs of stars being locked in a pitch-black room together with what they think is a poisonous rattlesnake. Through night-vision cameras, we see them crawl into corners and under tables while Knoxville taunts them with a rubber snake and a rattle noise. Dave England and Ehren McGhehey bicker at each other like an old couple during this nightmarish situation. As director Jeff Tremaine says in the behind-the-scenes segment after the film, “You can feel the weight of their 20-year friendship in that scene.” When the bit is seemingly over, England refuses to leave through what is clearly a door to another hellscape, hilariously stating, “I’m not leaving through there. I’m going to start a new life in here.”
While that sequence is largely played for laughs, other scenes are genuinely terrifying, such as one in which McGhehey is trapped in a room with a bear, who eats salmon off of his crotch. Tremaine wisely cuts to the animal’s handler entering the room from just a few feet away, showing that safety really is a concern during the making of these movies. After the bear leaves the room, Knoxville comes in clapping and comforting McGhehey. (Call these films juvenile if you want, but they do have heart.)
Obviously, the Jackass founders are older now, so you’ll cringe even more as they thrust themselves into danger. When a bull knocks Knoxville unconscious, a deafening silence falls upon the set, and you can feel everyone’s love and concern for him.
While the original guys still go at it, a large part of this film finds them goading on the new, younger cast members: actor and former rapper Jasper Dolphin; YouTube daredevil Zach Holmes; actor Eric Manaka; professional surfer Sean “Poopies” McInerney; and the first female Jackass member, comedian Rachel Wolfson. It’s touching to see how humbled and honored they are to be in the film. After Holmes nails his first stunt, he goes in for a big hug from Knoxville. And at one point, Poopies takes a moment amid the chaos to reflect on the dream he’s reached. “I’ve been watching Jackass since I was 10 years old, and now I’m here,” he says happily, speaking not just for himself but for viewers like me as well.