Silver Screen: Jackass 3D **1/2
The opening sequence of Jackass 3D, a heavily green-screened mass-chaos sequence shot with incredible clarity on very expensive cameras, is played against Twisted Sister's “The Kids Are Back.” The soundtrack is something of a misnomer. Johnny Knoxville, the ringleader of MTV's breakout stunt-and-prank crew, is just a year shy of forty, and even the youngest member of the cast, skater and spinoff star Bam Margera, has crossed (however improbably) the thirty-year mark.
The kids aren't back, the men are. The increasingly old guys have returned.
Maybe that in some way accounts for the missing spirit in this, the third somewhat unlikely feature-film incarnation of the hit MTV show that turned underground skater tapes into mainstream masochistic mayhem. Knoxville, Margera, Steve-O, Ryan Dunn, Dave England, Jason “Wee Man” Acuñ a, and Chris Pontius have made millions abusing their genitals (in less obvious ways), pitting themselves against hostile animals, falling off of/into things, and generally freaking each other out for a decade now, and though all the principals are still game to test the limits of their physical endurance-- and occasionally douse themselves in excrement-- even their more outlandish stunts seem a little too familiar.
That's not to say their initial achievements, however lowbrow, weren't impressive. It's difficult to make a gag reel entertaining for an hour and a half, but the Jackass crew is so inventive with their setpieces and fearless in their challenges, not to mention good-humored about the inevitably disastrous results, that the first two movies were seriously pleasurable guilty pleasures.
Of course, sometimes lowbrow is just low; see, for instance, a man shove a blowgun up his own ass and then fart-power a dart across a room to pop a balloon rammed up another guy’s bro-hole. Actually, it comes across far more interesting written out than actually witnessed-- trust me.
That's not to say the fellas can't occasionally conjure up that old smack magic. The conceptual high point of the movie comes when the crew stages a duck hunt: Two larger cast members leap off a platform onto an inflatable float, popping a third performer who's laying at the opposite end high into the air. While our man hurtles up-- and inevitably down toward a spectacular water crash-- the rest of the boys, dressed as hunters in floating duck blinds, fire away with paintball guns. It's a little Tex Avery, a little Rube Goldberg. It's very, very funny.
But alas, it seems that the Jackass guys, the Chuck Yeager team of friendly savagery, may have found the limits of the envelope re: nut shots. It turns out there's only so many ways to hit another guy in the crotch with something, and, when those crown-jewel variations have run their course, even the basest chuckle loses its edge.
There's the matter, too, of the 3D upgrade, which has the advantage of jacking up ticket prices thirty percent with the added benefit of slightly enhancing a handful of sequences. Yeah, it sometimes makes paintballs, broken glass, water, and poop seem to fly right out of the screen. (Joy!) But it also undercuts the DIY spirit of the enterprise. One of the coolest elements of the original Jackass tapes, which became the first few seasons of the show (all, as well as the movies, directed by Jeff Tremaine, with a little help from Spike Jonze-- that Spike Jonze), was that it was low-rent. It was as though a wilder, cooler version of your buddies had gotten their gonzo home movies played on cable television. The 3D spin adds an extra layer of gloss that can't help but remind viewers that this is now, for these guys, a job. We're watching guys at a very unconventional office, but they've been there awhile and are nearing retirement, hungry for those pension checks.
The plus side of such a gleefully juvenile production is that you can hardly fault the boys for selling out their artistic integrity. It's not that it's somehow, in some warped way, less noble. It's just kind of tired.