Jackass 3D is essentially unchanged from its two feature-film predecessors, a carnival of cruelty in which a troupe of clowns — it’s all men, all white — test their masculinity by taking moronic risks and subjecting themselves to disgusting punishments. It’s better than the first film, maybe not as good as the second. But almost. Does 3-D add anything? A little. At one point, something long is thrust into the audience’s face, but given that the rating is R instead of NC-17, it is, semiotically speaking, a signifier rather than that which is being signified (i.e., a stiff, fat cock).
One of the Candid Camera–style pranks is an Allen Funt–would-shit-himself-in-his-grave classic that centers on Wee Man and a lot of other wee people in a bar. To say anything else would be more than a wee spoiler. One’s heart this time goes out to Steve-O, clean and sober and consequently grimly undefended in the face of scatological horror when he is, for example, fixed to his seat in a full-to-bursting Porta-Potty and lofted heavenward. It’s always a special moment when the Jackasses drive their own to vomit. The gang’s mirth in watching their colleagues writhe in agony is heartwarmingly undimmed. Their words are satisfyingly blunt. “What did it feel like?” “It felt like shit.”
Not funny, surprisingly, are a Beavis and Butt-head prologue and the slow-motion 3-D-inflected credit sequence. Slow motion is vital to Jackass, but only after we’ve seen the atrocity in real time. Then and only then, having been shocked at the level of man’s inhumanity to man, can we truly savor the thud of flesh and sinew and bone against surfaces that are hard and unyielding.
It should be noted that some of the confrontations with angry beasts — there’s a haymaker involving a pathetically ineffective trompe l’oeil Johnny Knoxville and a very pissed-off ram — were monitored by an animal-rights group. Human-rights reps were apparently not invited. This is as it should be: Part of the pleasure of Jackass is watching animals violate (and penetrate!) humans, who then emerge bowed but unbroken.
In an age torn by war and inhumanity, there’s something decadent about privileged white Americans hurting themselves for laughs and extreme profit. Sometimes I look at them, the stunted and obese, the unabashedly trashy, and find them irrationally disturbing: I want to see them killed. Did I say that? I mean, not killed dead, exactly. Exiled from the tribe. From an evolutionary standpoint, they are so reckless as to be a threat to our species’ survival.
And yet, they affirm something primitive in men’s nature, reaching back to an age of self-mutilation as a rite of passage. Something defiantly juvenile, even anti-feminine. Take that, you women who want us to grow up and stop playing with toys — and ourselves!
Most women — the ones I associate with, anyway — are appalled that Jackass makes me bark like a hyena and scream at the screen. My brilliant colleague Dana Stevens, of Slate, sat next to me at Jackass 3D and, while open-minded, did not share my mirth. But then, I don’t think Jackass would be as much fun if she did. Vive la différance!