Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Jackass Number Two," dir. Jeff Tremaine (Oklahoma Gazette, 10/4/06)

Indestructible comedian Johnny Knoxville, having wandered in the cinematic wilderness in the years since laying “Jackass” to rest, is trampled by a runaway bull not long into “Jackass Number Two.”

I’d like to think it’s a not-so-thinly-veiled assessment of his post-MTV solo career but in reality, it’s just the opening salvo in another 95 minutes of human tricks that go beyond stupid and into the realm of masochistic.

I don’t need to tell you that this film treats its stars like living, breathing punching bags – it’s a testament to the resiliency of the human body that these men aren’t in permanent traction somewhere. Whether it’s hopping into a rocket-powered shopping cart, withstanding a blistering barrage of crowd-controlling plastic pellets or dodging homemade wrecking balls on a BMX bike, the “Jackass” crew makes Jackie Chan’s bone-breaking stunt work look like child’s play.

Aside from the stupendous feats of numskullery, there’s also the “Fear Factor” element – few other enterprises rely upon a contingent of fearless risk-takers to do things that would make some puke just by suggestion. Quick slurp of freshly produced horse semen? Check. Chugging an entire bottle of beer through one’s posterior? Gotcha. Donning a contraption dubbed “The Fart Mask”? You betcha.

Most of the players, including Chris Pontius, Steve-O and Bam Margera, have gone on to second-tier fame of their own, mostly through MTV spin-off series (“Wildboyz” and “Viva La Bam”); while the shock of the new has worn off, “Jackass Number Two” still exerts a weird capacity to thrill – I won’t spoil the penultimate skit (“Terror Taxi”) but the core idea and its execution are both brazen and unsettling; it’s a fascinating application of a comedic ethos to subject matter that is difficult to handle in a straight-ahead narrative.

Cameos abound – Mike Judge, Willie Garson, Luke Wilson, Tony Hawk, Rip Taylor and our own Mat Hoffman (who also popped up in the first “Jackass”) all make appearances, mostly relegated to watching in awe as these emboldened fools wrestle anacondas and taunt bulls.

The question arises every time the “Jackass” guys resurface as to whether anyone in their right mind should pay money to watch grown men defecate, bleed and collect concussions like baseball cards – I’d argue that yes, like some perverse piece of performance art, “Jackass” has merit; a shred of merit, mind you, but merit nonetheless.

Inescapable homoerotic subtexts aside, “Jackass” functions best as a scream of unrepressed id – this gang is juvenile, well funded and queasily inventive. As “Jackass Number Two” winds down, however, you can feel the momentum fading; there are only so many ways to make yourself bleed, puke or urinate.

“God, I hope there’s not a ‘Jackass 3,’” Margera moans towards the film’s conclusion. I second that thought, but not because I wouldn’t raucously laugh my way through a third installment – I just don’t think these guys can take much more.

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