Jackass in the Rearview Mirror

CA jackass_75This column is about what to do if, like me, you have a perhaps unhealthy level of interest in the Jackass films.




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Two things stand out from my now four-years-old review of Jackass 3D: I say that Jackass is what cinema was made for, and that this film would have to be the last of the series. There: I was right about one thing and wrong about another.

Of course, they’re found new ways to extend the Jackass brand, most notably in last year’s hit movie Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, which was the first Jackass film I didn’t much care for. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but that it was a glaring case of having the best parts of the movie all in the trailer, leaving no compelling reason to shell out $10 to see the whole thing. Meanwhile, some of the cast members have hinted that a proper Jackass 4 might be in the works after all (Bam Margera has reportedly proposed the subtitle We’re Not Dunn Yet, a suitably inappropriate pun that references the untimely death-by-drunk-car-crash of Ryan Dunn), and the turnaround time on the films is remarkably fast—they tend to go from being first confirmed as being in production to being in general release within 12 months’ time—so we might get another mainline film after all. But this column is about what to do in the meantime if, like me, you have a perhaps unhealthy level of interest in the Jackass films, wish they’d come out more often, and know that they’ll never be the same once the core team breaks up, as their charisma, chemistry, and overall likeability is a huge factor in what makes the films work so well.

CA bad-grandpaSo that we start off on the same page, I’d rank Jackass Number Two as the best of the series, then Jackass 3D, then Jackass: The Movie, which, on hindsight, is meaner-spirited than the later ones (though Steve-O doing wasabi snooters is still one of the more rightfully legendary of their bits, as is Ryan Dunn sticking a Hot Wheel up his ass and then going to get an X-ray). Bad Grandpa is worse than any of the three proper Jackass movies, and is roughly on par with similar, though not quite the same or related, endeavors such as Borat and Brüno. Then beneath that is the original MTV Jackass TV show (which is available in DVD form and contains some gems, but pales in comparison to how good the movies were capable of being), and also the knockoffs, like Britain’s Dirty Sanchez, which is good at illustrating what Jackass would be like if the guys doing the stunts didn’t all work so charmingly together. Direct Jackass predecessor CKY is akin to the DVDs of the Jackass TV show, if only the bits were better; there are great moments to be found, but a ton of boring filler stuff, too.

But beyond the theatrical releases, there have been a series of “.5” releases that have gone direct to video: Jackass 2.5, Jackass 3.5, Bad Grandpa .5. While on the surface it seems like these would be a shitty cash-grab on the popularity of the series, in fact, all three of the .5 movies are pretty great. How the .5 series works is they’re essentially what one would expect of the special features on the DVD release, but edited all together into a movie. They’re mostly made up of stunts that didn’t make it into the main film, but also behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew about what it was like to actually do this stuff. (And, of course, there are crossover stunts/behind-the-scenes bits, where one person will be being interviewed soberly on camera, and someone else will sneak up behind them and pee on them or kick the chair out from under them or whatever.)

If we enter the .5 movies into the above ranked list of the best Jackass movies, they’d all three land between Jackass Number Two and Jackass: The Movie, with Jackass 3.5 being the best of these orphaned films. You also get a better sense of the team’s individual personalities in these films, particularly the ones whose names aren’t Johnny Knoxville–level big: Preston Lacy comes off as being a very likeable character; Dave England is at least portrayed (and might actually be) the one guy in the group that no one else really likes (to often amusing effect); and Wee Man, who is great in a lot of the bits he’s involved in, is bro-ey in a way that’ll put you off really quickly.

CA steve-oOf course, some of the higher-profile cast members spend their Jackass vacation time on other perhaps noteworthy pursuits. Knoxville has appeared in fiction films both big and small; Bam had his own MTV show, Viva La Bam; Steve-O and Chris Pontius were on a separate MTV show called Wildboyz; and other members often appeared in skateboarding videos, did stand-up, toured the country, released solo DVDs, etc. Somewhat less in character, though, is that a number of these guys published books. Sometimes-Jackass member Brandon Novak wrote one called Dreamseller about his struggle with drugs. Bam published the awfully titled Serious as Dog Dirt, which is a collage-style memoir of no particular interest (though I do like Bam). The best of the bunch, if you excuse my bias as he’s admittedly my favorite Jackass member, is Steve-O’s autobiography Professional Idiot: A Memoir, which is the kind of book I wonder if just about anyone else in the world but me has actually read. (Apparently, they have; it has pretty uniformly stellar product reviews on book websites, and said reviews seem to show evidence of actually having read the thing.) What’s funny about Professional Idiot is that, while it’s surprisingly not bad, you’re likely to come out of it liking Steve-O less, not more; O is easily the sweetest and nicest-seeming of the core team, and debatably the most extreme in what he’s willing to do for the purpose of getting a laugh, but in his memoir he doesn’t sugarcoat his past, and unapologetically makes himself look like a huge asshole most of the time. But then, he was clean at the time Jackass 3D was made (and a vegan!—so how did he justify drinking Preston Lacy’s sweat, then?), which contrasts sadly with Dunn’s fate in 2011, so this acceptance and matter-of-factness about his flaws may very well have saved Steve-O’s life.

So if you have a craving for more Jackass while we wait for a new mainline film that may never come, your best way to go is the three .5 movies and Steve-O’s book. Even still, a lot of the fun in the Jackass series is seeing these guys have what is obviously a good time together, which you don’t get so much from these side projects, and also in reading and creating your own subtexts for the main films: hat they say about homophobia, animal cruelty, pornography, destructive behavior, and sometimes even things like race relations and prejudice. There has to be a whole generation of kids who grew up surreptitiously watching the Jackass films, and are now old enough to be picking apart this type of topic in term papers. I look forward to the day when scholarly journals devote whole issues to the way the Jackass films tackled issues. | Pete Timmermann

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